What are Omega-3 and Omega-6?
Omega-3 and omega-6 are not unknown to most of the people as they are often mentioned while talking about a healthy lifestyle. Both are good fatty acids that are required for normal functioning of the human body. Let’s look into the details of both of them.
Omega-3 is a chemical compound which belongs to the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). They are called polyunsaturated because they contain double bonds. This specific PUFA contains a double bond that connects the third and fourth carbon atoms at the end of the molecule opposite to the carboxyl group (1).
In laity terms, it’s a type of fat that you would need in your diet because of its health benefits. Benefits of omega-3 have been proven through countless and ageless research studies. It has positive effects on our brains and cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) (2).
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Omega-3 is especially good for the brain health. So, if you are a student or doing any job that requires lots of mental work, you should specifically make sure that your omega-3 levels are within a normal range (3).
These are the proven benefits (4) of omega-3:
- Reduces risk of heart attacks and stroke
- Improves brain development in infants
- Reduces risk of cancer specifically breast, prostate and colorectal cancers (5)
- Helps to curtail degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia
- Improves cognitive functioning
- Prevents age-related vision loss
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Another major benefit of omega-3 is that it is necessary for proper foetal development. Research has proven that it helps develop neuronal, retinal, and immune function 6).
Sources of omega-3 are fatty fishes such as salmon and cod, fish oil, dark green leafy vegetables, seeds and nuts and, flaxseeds.
Omega-6 is a chemical compound that belongs to the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). They are called polyunsaturated because they contain double bonds. This specific PUFA contains a double bond that connects the sixth and seventh carbon atoms at the end of the molecule opposite to the carboxyl group (7).
Basically, omega-6 is a trans-isomer of omega-3. So, there are just a few differences in chemical structure that make them different. However, this small difference in chemistry can have a great impact on your body.
Omega-6 has both good and bad effects on your health. They are listed below.
- Reduces risk of heart diseases
- Lowers LDL or “bad” cholesterol
- Increases HDL or “good” cholesterol
- Reduces risk of cancer (8)
- Pro-inflammatory properties (opposite to omega-3)
- Increased risk of obesity
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of atherosclerosis (9)
Most importantly, too much omega-6 actually causes omega-3 deficiencies! (10)
How can Intake of Omega-3 help you stay Healthy?
Omega-3 intake is necessary to be in good health. It is especially good for elderly. Let’s look into its benefits.
- Omega-3 decreases risk of depression and it also aggravates recovery in depressed patients (11)
- In old age, there is an increased risk of microbleeds in the brain (12) Omega-3 helps recover from such injuries and stroke (13)
How common is Omega-3 deficiency within the Population?
Omega-3 deficiency is not uncommon. Research shows that omega-3 intake is not appropriate in all age groups. A research conducted in the US concluded that a big percentage of the US adult population is not taking recommended amounts of omega-3 fatty acid as set by the 2010 DGA. Following table shows intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources only which is below requirements (14).
Table 1. Different intake of omega-3 fat fish per person and day in the US population by age and gender. The mean values are higher for older people and men but still far below the recommended levels (14).
|Gender||Age||Number of people asked||Mean fat fish intake (oz/day)||Standard Error (oz/day)|
|All||19 + Years||14,338||0.15||0.01|
|All||19 – 50 Years||7,585||0.13||0.01|
|All||51 + Years||6,753||0.19||0.02|
|Male||19 + Years||7,302||0.18||0.02|
|Male||19 – 50 Years||3,944||0.16||0.02|
|Male||51 + Years||3,358||0.21||0.03|
|Male||19 + Years||7,036||0.13||0.01|
|Female||19 – 50 Years||3,641||0.10||0.01|
|Female||51 + Years||3,395||0.17||0.02|
|*0.1 oz/day is the same as 2.96 g/day|
The American Heart Association’s Strategic Impact Goal Through 2020 and Beyond recommends more than or equivalent to two 3.5-oz (100 grams) fish servings per week (preferably oily fish) to increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (15).
Referring to the above table, many individuals most probably would not meet the recommendation.
It is important to understand that there are three types of omega-3 and they are gained from different sources. The list is below.
- α-linolenic acid (ALA) is only found in plant oils
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is found in marine oils
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found in marine oils
There are plant sources such as canola oil, flaxseed oil, soybean oil etc (16). While fatty fish are a good source of marine oils.
Who is Susceptible to Omega-3 Deficiency?
Since two types of omega-3 primarily come from fish and fish oils, people who omit them from their diet are more vulnerable to omega-3 deficiency.
If you are a vegan, you are at a high risk to miss the recommended intake of omega-3. Some sources claim that flaxseed or flaxseed oil are a great replacement for fish that is not very true.
As stated before, there are 3 types of omega-3. Flaxseed oil contains the ALA component while fish contains the other two – DHA and EPA. ALA is the first and 18 carbon long Omega 3 acid that then gets converted to the longer EPA (20 carbons) and DHA (22 carbons) which are other two type of omega-3. But, the conversion process is slowed down since flaxseed is very high in omega-6 as well. Both rely on the same enzyme for the conversion to longer acid chains, and as omega-6 levels are high, the Omega 6 outcompetes the Omega 3 for the conversion (23).
There are other alternatives that are as efficacious as fish or fish oil and can alleviate the issue too. Algae (certain types) are a great source of both EPA and DHA Omega 3s. Vegetables such as turmeric also contain substances that increase the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA (19, 24). For a vegan that is something that could benefit if it was to be included in his or her diet.
What are the Causes of Omega-3 Deficiency?
The causes of omega-3 deficiency can be grouped in two classes; direct causes and indirect causes (17, 18).
Direct causes are:
- Inadequate intake
- Vegan diet
Indirect causes are:
- Too much Omega 6 in diet
- FADS2 gene mutation in vegans and vegetarians
Let’s look into them one by one.
A balanced diet should contain all important nutrients. An inadequate diet is the one which is deficient in nutrition. It can be a cause of omega-3 deficiency (17).
Thus, if you are not aware of what you’re consuming, you should test your omega-3 fatty acid profile that you can do using a home health test.
A vegan diet has no meat at all, so it is deficient in fish or fish oils as well, which are the predominant sources of omega-3 (17).
According to statistics, India has the highest numbers of vegans among all ethnic groups with a mass percentage of 62%. But, Indians use turmeric powder extensively in their local dishes that is a good source of omega-3 and hence, they avoid the deficiency.
Turmeric contains a substance known as curcumin which has been proven to increase conversion of ALA to DHA in the liver and the brain (19).
Too much Omega 6
Research has shown that omega-3 deficiencies are more prevalent in west because the western diet contains substantial amounts of omega-6 intake.
Omega-6 has health benefits but overdose causes an indirect negative impact on omega-3 serum levels. As described above, it interferes with the metabolism of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) (23).
FADS2 gene mutation in vegans and vegetarians
The body makes adaptations in order to survive the lifestyle and dietary practices of a vegan or vegetarian. Because of the limited intakes of good sources of omega-3, such as fish and fish oils, the FADS2 gene has mutated to convert precursors into PUFAs in a raised amount.
It increases the amount of PUFA in the body i.e. both omega-3 and omega-6 (19).
Also, the excessive intake of fast foods like deep-fried French fries, sweetened carbonated drinks and other processed snacks that are high in omega-6 leads to raised levels of omega-6 that in turn leads to lower conversion of omega-3, as described before.
What happens in Omega-3 Deficiency?
Many people tend to turn vegan for their own reasons that later leads to omega-3 deficiency and bothersome symptoms. For example, a woman turned vegan after watching a video in her lecture on how farm animals and fishes were treated and killed. She was appalled and could not bring herself to support that kind of behaviour by purchasing or even consuming meat any longer.
After a month of stepping into this big change, she complained about feeling tired, not being able to remember what she initially planned to do in the day and of decreased productivity (21).
Around a week later, she mentioned of having dry eyes, itchy and dry patches of skin and some bumps at the back of the right side of her upper arm. She also got irritable. In addition, eye bags were starting to show which could be due to her sleep quality (21).
In such a situation, she was persuaded to take a home test. She used a home test kit to know her fatty acid and PUFAs profile and turned out that she was facing an omega-3 deficiency. A home test kit actually helped her knowing about it before the adverse effects begin to appear.
Initial symptoms of omega-3 deficiency were already present in her. Following is a list (4, 22):
- Dry skin
- Soft and brittle nails
- Dry and easily breakable hair
- Rough patches of skin
- Small bumps on the back of the upper
- Decreased attention span
- Easily irritated
- Fluctuating moods
- Disrupted sleep cycles
So, these are the alarming symptoms that should make you test your omega-3 levels. A home test kit can play a great role in initial testing and diagnosis.
Why it can be very good for your health to Test yourself for Omega-3 Deficiency
The above example shows that the initial symptoms of omega-3 deficiency are not very specific and can go unnoticed till the adverse effects appear. If you have any of these symptoms or if you know that your diet consists of processed food, it is highly recommended that you find out your omega-3 serum levels using an Omega-3 home test kit or also known as a fatty acid profile home test kit (14, 15).
Treatment is only possible when you know that the deficiency exists. A home health test kit can accurately tell if you need to see a doctor (17, 18, 19).
What are the Ways to Test for Omega-3 Deficiency?
There are two ways to get yourself tested;
- At home
- At a doctor’s clinic/lab.
The cost of getting tested at a doctor’s clinic includes doctor’s fee and test fee. A home testing kit, on the other hand, costs way less and comes with different prices. Some are more accurate than others so choosing a good quality kit can eliminate accuracy issues.
How to use a Home Test Kit to know your Omega-3 Levels and PUFAs Profile
Home kits can be ordered online and you can perform the test in the comfort of your home. Here are the steps to test your omega 3 level.
- Order your kit online
- Collect your blood sample/cheek swab/breast milk sample
- Mail the sample to the lab
- Get results at your home
You will be provided with the instructions and tools for the collection of your sample. Like any other finger-prick blood test, you will need to press the provided lancet into your finger and collect the blood sample. Then you have to mail it in the envelope that has already been paid for.
Some Good PUFA and Omega-3 Deficiency Home Test Kits
As described above, home kits can be ordered online and they come with an instruction manual that helps with their use. There is a variety of home test kits available online. Following is a list of some good online home test kits to choose from.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid which is required for a healthy life. Some people can face deficiency of omega-3 due to different causes and this deficiency can lead to bothersome symptoms.
It is important to make sure that you have normal omega-3 levels to ensure good health. Home test kits are a perfect option to rule out omega-3 deficiency in the comfort of your home.
Once you know that you have such a deficiency, you can improve your diet and take some supplement with the advice of your doctor. A home test kit can further help with the follow-up.
The symptoms of omega 3 deficiency, most of the times, go unseen because of their mild nature that we would attribute to be something minimal. The best option is to check your levels and take an action by knowing your omega-3 fatty acid profile. It helps start a treatment as soon as possible.
(1): Merriam Webster – 2018/05/12 – https://www.merriam-webster.com – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/omega-3
(2): Healthline – 2017/12/05 – How Omega-3 Fish Oil Affects your Brain and Mental Health – https://www.healthline.com – https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/omega-3-fish-oil-for-brain-health
(3): NCBI- 2015/04/21 – Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404917/
(4): National Institute of Health (NIH) – Omega-3 Fatty Acids – https://ods.od.nih.gov – https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
(5): NCBI – 2015/05/04 – Omega-3 fatty acids for breast cancer prevention and survivorship. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25936773
(6): NCBI – 2012 – Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332096
(7): Merriam Webster – 2018/05/12 – https://www.merriam-webster.com – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/omega-36
(8): WebMD – 2018/05/12 – Omega-6 Fatty Acids – https://www.webmd.com – https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-496/omega-6-fatty-acids
(9): NCBI – 2016 – An increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3/ Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity – Nutrients – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808858/
(10): NCBI – 2016 – An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808858/
(11): NCBI – 2004/11/09 – Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC533861/
(12): NCBI – 2015/08/11 – Cerebral Microbleeds Are Associated With an Increased Risk of Stroke: The Rotterdam Study. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26137955
(13): NCBI – 2016/06/28 – The Role of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Stroke – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940554/
(14): NCBI – 2014 – U.S. adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results of an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003–2008 – Nutr J – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992162/
(15): American Heart Association – 2010 – 2020 Impact Goals – https://www.heart.org – https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@swa/documents/downloadable/ucm_425189.pdf
(16): National Institute of Health (NIH) – Omega-3 Fatty Acids – https://ods.od.nih.gov – https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
(17): Smartdrugsmart – 2014/03/03 – DR. MICHAEL LEWIS AND THE POWER OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS – https://smartdrugsmarts.com – https://smartdrugsmarts.com/episodes/dr-michael-lewis-omega-3-fatty-acids/
(18): Smartdrugsmart – 2015/05/22 – OMEGA-3 SHOOT-OUT – https://smartdrugsmarts.com – https://smartdrugsmarts.com/episodes/episode-77-omega-3-shoot-out/
(19): NCBI – 2014 – Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders – HHS Author Manuscripts – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754352/
(20): Vegplanet – 2018/05/12 – Koushik Raghaven – https://vegplanet.in – https://vegplanet.in/dna-of-vegetarians-and-vegans-with-herbivorous-ancestors-have-fads2-gene-mutation/
(21): Smartdrugsmart – 2013/12/18 – DR. GOMEZ-PINILLA AND THE IMPACT OF DIET AND EXERCISE ON COGNITION – https://smartdrugsmarts.com – https://smartdrugsmarts.com/episodes/dr-gomez-pinilla-impact-diet-exercise-cognition/
(22): Omegavia – 2010/03/23 – Vin Kutty – https://omegavia.com – https://omegavia.com/deficiency-symptoms/
(23): BetterNutrition – 2018/05/12 – Jonny Bowden – https://www.betternutrition.com – https://www.betternutrition.com/natural-rx/fish-versus-flax-oil
(24): NCBI – 2015/10/12 – Omega-3 Biotechnology: A Green and Sustainable Process for Omega-3 Fatty Acids Production – Front Bioeng Biotechnol – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4600955/