What is the Difference Between Omega-3 and Omega-6?
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
- Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in food like nuts and fish that helps with cognitive function, energy levels, and the immune system.
- Omega-6 is another polyunsaturated fatty acid found in nuts and seeds that’s mainly used for energy.
- Some forms of odd chain saturated fatty acids can also be helpful, like the C15:0 found in fatty15 that helps in keeping our cells functioning in a healthy way.
It can be hard these days to keep up on the science around good versus bad fats. Fat is bad, fat is good -- which is it?
Prior to the late 70s, fat was our friend. Our diets consisted of full fat milk and milk products like cheese and butter. We ate eggs without concern for their fat content.
The problem that arose, however, was an increase in cardiovascular disease. In fact, when President Eisenhower suffered a major heart attack in 1955, he made his health and care public. His presiding physician urged Americans to stop smoking and decrease fat intake. This declaration was based on research by a physician named Ancel Keys.
In 1977, the U.S. government gave nutrition guidelines to the American population: eat less fat, especially saturated fat, to decrease your risk of heart disease.
Unfortunately, this dietary change did not provide the health fix for which the government was hoping. As we eliminated fat from our diets (and increased our amount of dietary sugar), we began to see an increase in chronic conditions, especially among youth, like obesity and type 2 diabetes. Maybe fat, even saturated fat, wasn’t the bad guy after all.
In fact, a growing body of science supports that there are fats we need in our diet that were lacking due to the national push for low fat diets.
What is the Difference Between Omega-3 and Omega-6?
Many of us are aware that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids help to keep us healthy. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (specifically, alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid) are considered essential. An essential fatty acid is one that our body needs, but which our body cannot make. That means we must get this fatty acid from an outside source. Let’s look at omega-3s and omega-6s individually to determine what makes them both different and essential.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids which are found in large quantities in fish, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. The most common types of omega-3 fatty acids are:
- EPA. This fatty acid can help to fight depression and helps aid your immune system.
- DHA. This fatty acid is crucial for healthy brain development and cognitive function.
- ALA. This fatty acid is most effective in giving the body energy. It is also an “essential” omega-3 fatty acid. It cannot be produced by the body, so we have to get it from foods containing omega-3.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for supporting cell membrane health. Daily recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids are 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids, and they are more common in a Western diet than omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are mostly used by the human body for energy, and are found in plant oils, seeds, and nuts.
There four common types of omega-6 fatty acids are:
- Linoleic acid. This is the other “essential” omega fatty acid, and it only comes from omega-6 rich foods.
- ARA. Whether or not ARA is actually beneficial to us is the subject of much debate. It may or may not be effective in promoting a healthier heart.
- GLA. This fatty acid may help support bone and joint health.
- CLA. This fatty acid supports healthy weight maintenance.
Getting the appropriate amount of omega-6 fatty acids can be a challenge. A typical diet is usually heavy on omega-6 fatty acids, and your body only needs between 12 grams for women and 17 grams for men of omega-6 fatty acids per day.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can be beneficial for heart health and disease prevention. The real difference between the two fatty acids is how the carbon atoms bond to the end (omega) of the acid molecule. Aside from this structural difference, these two fatty acids are essentially partners for supporting your heart health.
While most people know that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids offer health benefits, fewer people are aware that there are some types of dietary saturated fatty acids that may be good for our health, too.
Are All Saturated Fats Bad?
You may be surprised to hear that no, not all saturated fats are bad. Although we’ve been conditioned to believe that all saturated fats are bad for us, researchers have discovered that not all saturated fats are created equally, and some are actually beneficial for us.
This discovery could be the ultimate fat game changer, as a growing body of scientific evidence supports that there’s actually another essential fatty acid our bodies need, in addition to omega-3 and omega-6, that is a saturated fat.†
Even-Chain Saturated Fatty Acids
Even-chain fatty acids are a type of saturated fat found in full fat dairy products, high fat meat and meat products like lard, and some plant oils like coconut oil. These are the saturated fats your doctor warned you about. Higher even-chain saturated fatty acids (like C16:0) have been associated with negative health effects.
People with higher even-chain saturated fatty acid levels have a higher risk of:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Based on these studies, it may be best to avoid these fats. Excessive amounts of these fats don’t appear to deliver benefits to your body that outweigh the negative impact they can have on your health.
Odd-Chain Saturated Fatty Acids
A growing body of science supports that odd-chain saturated fatty acids, especially C15:0 (also called pentadecanoic acid), is a healthy saturated fat.† Unfortunately, when we decided all fat was “bad,” this vital, health-promoting fat got tossed out of our diets too.
Higher C15:0 levels are associated with:*†
- Balanced immunity
- Heart health
- Healthy metabolism
- Red blood cell health
- Healthy liver function
Odd-chain saturated fatty acids are mostly found in butter, cheese, and full fat milk. Due to dietary guidelines established in the 1970s that essentially removed whole fat dairy products from our diets, we haven’t been getting much C15:0 in our diets, and we didn’t really know how crucial it was until veterinarians discovered something surprising while helping to improve the health of two populations of dolphins.
That’s right - dolphins. While one population ate a diet that consisted of fish rich in C15:0, the other population didn’t. The population of dolphins eating the C15:0-rich fish developed less age-related conditions compared to the population that ate a diet low in C15:0.†
This led health professionals to wonder if the presence of C15:0 in the human diet would have the same impact.
It now appears that it does.
A growing body of research supports that a diet rich in C15:0 can promote overall health in people, beginning at the cellular level.*† C15:0 can help you age healthfully, in a way that gives your cells a fighting chance to stay functioning properly, longer.*†
With our mission to improve global health by bringing C15:0 back into our world, fatty15 was developed.
Fatty15 is the first and only pure powder C15:0 supplement available to help give your body the odd-chain fatty acid it needs, without the need to eat fatty foods which may contain other fats you don’t want or need. Fatty15 is a once a day capsule with one single ingredient, FA15™, the pure powder form of C15:0, to give you exactly what you need and nothing you don’t.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can be essential to our health and wellness. Our bodies need them to function properly. These fatty acids can help improve our heart health and function.
Science supports that C15:0 is the first essential fatty acid to be discovered since the omegas, nearly 90 years ago. C15:0 can help keep our cells healthy and functioning properly - especially as we get older - so we can age on our own terms.*†
In addition to being mindful of eating a healthy diet rich in the right omegas, taking fatty15 can give you more control over your health and wellness, and help support healthy aging from the inside out.*†
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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