Are Omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9 really essential and why?
Omega oils (omega fats) are needed for the body for proper functioning and there are several different types. Some omegas are created in the body and are considered non-essential (but still beneficial when taken through diet), and some the body cannot make and are considered essential. We need the full spectrum of omega fats in the body for it to function well, however modern diets favour some types, leaving us deficient in others.
Omega 3 is an essential omega and is available in diet and supplementation in 2 forms. Plant based omega 3 called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), and the fish or animal derived docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Although ALA has some uses in the body, particularly with blood and cardiovascular health, the majority of ALA will be converted into DHA and EPA where it is used in the brain cells, skin cells and as an anti-inflammatory hormone.
A fairly large proportion of individuals have a reduced ability to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, and as a result may show signs of omega 3 deficiency, including excess inflammation in the body, dry & flaky skin and reduced brain function and vision.
Oily fish and fish oil supplements contain the active form EPA and DHA so your body can use them straight away.
Omega 6 is an essential and interesting omega. It is often thought to be consumed too much in modern diets. And it is true that it needs to be consumed in balance with omega 3 fats. The problem is that modern diets contain too many poor-quality omega 6 fats.
Most of the omega 6 consumed in modern diets will be in the form of linoleic acid (LA). This then needs to be converted into gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and then into dihomo-linolenic acid (DGLA) for use in the body, where it is used in the brain, nerves, and cardiovascular system.
Much like omega 3, a fairly large portion of the population have reduced ability to convert LA into GLA, creating a GLA deficiency. High quality foods and supplements provide GLA, meaning many more people can get the benefits of healthy omega 6 fats and avoid deficiency which may be associated with nerve pain, reduce brain function and cardiovascular issues.
Omega 7 is non-essential and can be made in the body out of other fats. Sometimes however, the body does not make enough, and a food source is needed.
Omega 7 is known as palmitoleic acid and is incorporated into the skin and mucous membranes including the conjunctiva of the eyes, the vagina, all skin and is used in the healing of wounds and burns. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Typically, additional omega 7 is needed in individuals with dry mucous membranes, eczema and other types of dermatitis, as well as those with burns and wounds on the skin that need healing.
Omega 9 is known as oleic acid (OA) and is considered non-essential as it can also be made in the body from other fats. However, we often do not make as much as we need, and therefore we also need to get a source of omega 9 from foods or supplementation.
Omega 9 fatty acids are found in large quantities in the brain and in the outer coating of the nerve (myelin) which controls the speed of nerve-to-nerve communication and the communication between brain cells.
Why is supplementation important?
Although dietary intake and our own synthesis will provide some of the fatty acids we need, it can be very difficult to get enough. Our need for omega fats also increases in states of illness or imbalances in the body, particularly with issues relating to the skin, brain, nerves and cardiovascular health. A daily supplement containing these omegas not only guarantees a good daily intake, but also guarantees the quality of the oils ingested.
Oils can become denatured if not treated correctly. They may become denatured with exposure to heat, air and light, which is why dietary intakes of good quality oils are hard to gauge. A good supplement however refines the oils without damaging them and them ensure they are packaged to avoid damage and provide you with an excellent quality of omega fats daily.