Omega acids - what do we know about them?

Omega acids - what do we know about them?

Anna Krzymińska (pharmacist)
Head of Pharmacy at the Damian Medical Centre
Al. Zjednoczenia 36, Warszawa

Cardiologists, dermatologists and internists all recommend taking these unique acids. However, ensuring adequate amounts of omega-3, -6 and -9 in our diet is not an easy task. So it is no wonder that we are look to the pharmacy for support.

Omega-3 and omega-6 acids are classified as essential fatty acids (EFAs). This group includes only those fatty acids that the human body cannot produce by itself, and which are necessary for the body’s proper functioning. Omega-9 acids are also considered EFAs, but only conditionally, because even though the human body has enzymes used to produce them, the elderly and those suffering from liver diseases are not able to obtain these compounds in sufficient quantities.

The secret code

The numbers (3, 6, 9), which are given to the individual groups of omega acids provide information on their chemical structure. Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated acids (they have more than one double bond), while omega-9 are monounsaturated acids (they have exactly one double bond). The alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) all belong to the omega-3 acid group. While linoleic acid (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA, ARA) belong to the omega-6 acid group. The main representative of the omega-9 acid is oleic acid.

Metabolic pathways

The ALA and LA acids are the body’s starting point for the synthesis of other acids. EPA is formed from ALA, which gives rise to DHA. In turn, LA first transforms into GLA, and then by further transformations into AA. As a result of the metabolic changes, omega-3 acids (particularly EPA) are used for the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, while omega-6 acids (mainly AA) produce the pro-inflammatory version. Omega-3 and omega-6 acids compete for the same metabolic pathways. Too many omega-6 acids in the body make omega-3 metabolism difficult, so it is important to maintain the right balance between these acids. Omega-9 acids have different metabolic pathways, but their number in relation to the other acids is also important for the proper construction of cell membranes. Omega-3 and omega-6 acids cause an increase in the permeability of membranes in the cells, and omega-9 acids reduce this permeability. This is why we need all kinds of unsaturated fatty acids in balanced proportions.

The golden ratio

The right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 acids is important for the body’s proper function. The ratio recommended is 1: 5. Unfortunately, in the Western diet there is a predominance of omega-6 acids. Deviations from the recommended proportions here are significant, as much as 1:30. We eat too many vegetable fats, which are a source of omega-6 acids, and not enough fish, which are rich in omega-3 acids.

Supplement to our health

The recommended daily dose of omega-3 acids is 250 mg. However, according to the European Office for Food Safety, desired effects are reached with 2-4 grams per day. When choosing a supplement, select only good quality products with standardised acid content, which ensures they contain the declared amount. We should also pay attention to the composition and proportion - the more omega-3 acids, the better.

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