Omega 3-6-7-9 – What’s the Difference?

Whenever we hear the word “fat”, we immediately get uneasy about what we may be putting into our bodies. However, the “omegas” are a set of fatty acids quite essential to our bodily processes and overall physical health. Omega-3, 6, 7, and 9 each have their own responsibilities within the body, but are unequally important. Therefore, it is important to maintain an effective ratio of these omega intakes in order to reap the most benefits from them, as well as to prevent deficiencies and excesses.

Omega-3

Omega-3 could be considered the alpha omega for all of its important functions and benefits. In addition to enhancing brain and joint function, these fatty acids reduce risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as provide benefits related to fat-loss and muscle-building in athletes (4). And those are just the extras. Omega-3 is primarily responsible for controlling the body’s blood clotting and building the brain’s cellular membranes (3).
This is the most important of the omegas to take supplementary to the diet because, not only does the body not produce omega-3 on its own, but also having too much omega-6 and 9 will offset the body’s optimal ratio. There are two types of omega-3, the first of which comes from sources such as vegetable oils (soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, etc.) and some green vegetables (kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, etc.), and this is called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The body naturally partially converts the ALA into the second type, which is both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and is found in fatty fish (3). If your diet is lacking in these foods, especially fish, doctors suggest a daily omega-3 supplement (try fish oil).

Omega-6

Just like omega-3, omega-6 is also not naturally produced by the body and is therefore an essential fatty acid we must consume through our diets. Omega-6 works primarily to regulate normal brain functioning and the body’s growth and development. In addition to these responsibilities, omega-6 provides additional benefits to the body by helping to stimulate hair and skin growth, regulate metabolism, and maintain healthy bones and a healthy reproductive system (2).

Though it provides equal amounts of benefits as compared to omega-3, the major difference is that omega-6 is found so commonly – in most vegetable oils, nuts, and grain-fed meats – that it is more difficult to be deficient in it, thus prompting an undesirable ratio of the omegas. The main issue here is that while omega-3 works to reduce inflammation in the body, omega-6 works in opposition, increasing inflammation (2). That being said, it is possible that having an excess of omega-6 over omega-3 can lead to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which is a chronic pain that takes over an arm or a leg (1).

Omega-7

Though not the last number in the group of omegas, omega-7 has only recently been brought to the light of discovery as researchers determine its benefits and sources. This fatty acid can be found in foods like macadamia nuts and a fruit called sea buckthorn, but it is also produced naturally within the body. One important thing scientists have discovered about omega-7 is its placement in foods containing palmitic acid, one of the most heart-damaging fats we can consume. Omega-7 works against that palmitic acid by providing oppositional benefits – it reduces inflammation and insulin resistance where palmitic acid increases it. Because the amount of research done on the effects of omega-7 on humans, the information available on the topic is sparse but positive. On that note, the best way to stay on the safe side while researchers learn about this new and intriguing omega is to eat fish. This is because the purified omega-7 used for supplements actually comes from the leftovers of fish when the omega-3 is taken out for supplements. This could be the legitimate reason that eating fish is better for your heart than just taking fish oil supplements (5).

Omega-9

Finally, the last of the omegas is omega-9. This fatty acid benefits the body by reducing inflammation, much like omega-3, helping to improve joint health and healing, as well as prevent a variety of diseases. The convenient part of this omega is that the body produces omega-9 without any interference from us, so we don’t have to worry too much about keeping tabs on our intake of it. That being said, though, the nutrient can also be found in olive oil, so cooking with olive oil and using it in salad dressings will ensure a good balance of omega-9 and 6, in their ratio to the touchiest omega-3 (4).

Wrap-Up

Even though there are only three (plus an up-and-coming fourth) versions of the fatty acid known as omega, it can get a little confusing to keep them straight, especially with the issue of balancing an optimal ratio. With that in mind, it is suggested that the best way to maintain a healthy intake of omega-3, 6, 7, and 9 is, first and foremost, to stick to an overall healthy diet, but to include either fish or a 500mg fish oil supplement every day. Regularly cooking with olive oil and consuming vegetable oils and leafy greens will also help the body to regulate the correct levels of the omegas. In addition to this advice, we have provided a table to serve as a quick reference guide as to what each omega does and where it can be found. However, like with any health issue, we always encourage you to seek your doctor’s advice if you have any concerns with your omega intake or plan to make any drastic changes to your diet.

Omega Comparison Chart

References (click to show/hide)

  1. "Complex Regional Pain Syndrome." Definition. Mayo Clinic, 12 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 June 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complex-regional-pain-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20022844.
  2. "Omega-6 Fatty Acids." University of Maryland Medical Center. University of Maryland Medical Center, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega6-fatty-acids.
  3. Sacks, Frank, MD. "Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids." The Nutrition Source. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2014. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3/.
  4. Stoppani, Jim, Ph.D. "Ask the Supplement Guru." Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 9 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 June 2014. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/ask-the-supplement-guru-omega-3-vs-omega-3-6-9.html.
  5. Sygo, Jennifer, M.Sc., RD. "Jennifer Sygo: Introducing Omega-7s, the New Fatty Acid on the Block." National Post Life Jennifer Sygo Introducing Omega7s the New Fatty Acid on Theblock Comments. N.p., 11 June 2013. Web. 16 June 2014. http://life.nationalpost.com/2013/06/11/jennifer-sygo-introducing-omega-7s-the-new-fatty-acid-on-the-block/?__federated=1.