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Introduction

Omega 3-6-9 supplements contain a mixture of three separate types of fatty acids; omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9.

Each of these fatty acids have their own unique metabolic functions and impact on health.

Although these fatty acids are present within foods, they are becoming increasingly popular to supplement with to ensure an adequate intake.

The Benefits Of Omega-3

Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in foods.

Chemically, this fatty acid has multiple double bonds in its hydrocarbon chain with the final one occurring between the third and fourth carbon atom from the tail end.

This type of fatty acid is essential to consume in the diet as the human body cannot synthesize it from other sources (unlike all other fatty acids other than omega-6).

Despite this, in modern day western diets omega-3 intake is extremely low and is a key reason why inflammation levels are generally much higher than ancestral diets – partly attributed to a low intake of oily fish, seeds, and nuts.

Omega 3’s are categorized into 3 different groups;

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid): mainly found in nuts, seeds and oils.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – mainly found in seafood, or converted in small amounts from ALA.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): Also found mainly in seafood, or converted in small amounts from EPA.

These fatty acids are all mainly associated with improved cardiovascular health and reduced levels of inflammation.

They have shown in studies to achieve these effects by:

  • Suppressing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules and regulating gene expression [1].
  • Improving endothelial (cells on blood vessel walls) function by promoting the release of nitric oxide from these cells.
  • Incorporation into cell walls, decreasing resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure and improving systemic arterial compliance [2].
  • Decreasing triglyceride levels in the blood by the reduced synthesis of LDL from the liver, combined with an increase in the removal of triglycerides from the blood [3].

Due to these mechanisms, some studies have shown that omega-3 supplementation can decrease cardiovascular events and mortality rates [4]. However, this finding is not always found, and counter-evidence suggests its intake is not always associated with a significant change in all-cause mortality or cardiovascular outcomes [5] [6].

At this point the research on omega-3’s and cardiovascular benefits is not conclusive. However, dietary guidelines from the American Heart Association still recommend the consumption of a variety of fish at least twice a week.

In addition, the consumption of omega-3’s has also been linked to other benefits such as:

  • Improved Mental Health: Omega-3’s may reduce symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder [8] due to the fatty acids effect on modulating the reuptake of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, as well as its anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic effects [7].
  • Improved Bone Health: Higher omega-3 intakes are generally linked to better bone mineral densities [9]. This is likely because they attenuate the production of various pro-inflammatory molecules, favor osteoblastogenesis (production of bone cells), and decrease the maturation of bone cells via an increased production of IGF-1 and parathyroid hormone [10] [11].
  • Improved Eye Health: One of the omega-3’s, DHA, is a major structural component of the retina in the eye. Deficiencies in DHA intake are associated with vision problems [12]. Sufficient omega-3 intake is also linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration – a major cause of permanent eye damage and blindness [13].

The Benefits Of Omega-6

Much like omega-3’s, omega-6’s are also classified as an essential fatty acid within the diet as the body does not have the enzymes to produce them from other sources.

Chemically, omega-6’s contain many double bonds in the hydrocarbon chain, with the last one occurring between the sixth and seventh carbon atoms from the tail end.

The essential roles of omega-6 fatty acids are their contribution to the structure and function of cell membranes and the regulation of gene activity inside cells. In particular, omega-6’s are found to be important for normal brain development and blood clotting.

However, although they need to be consumed in the diet, one of the main nutritional problems in modern society is the overconsumption of omega-6’s – sourced mainly from a high intake of oils and processed foods.

This is because omega-6’s are known to be pro-inflammatory, where they have a much greater tendency to react with oxygen and form chain reactions of free radicals [14], which negatively impacts the immune system and can potentially offset the inflammatory balance (unless countered by a high omega-3 intake).

Keep in mind, this is in reference to chronic inflammation that can cause unnecessary damage to cells, as opposed to normal levels of inflammation that is essential to protecting the body from infection and injury.

Chronic inflammation has even now been described as a leading driver of most modern diseases, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, alzheimer’s, and many types of cancer.

The most important factor when trying to avoid issues with inflammation from omega-6 intake is to restrict (not eliminate) its intake, or balance a high omega-6 consumption with a good amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s – this is known as the omega-6:omega-3 ratio [15].

A more balanced ratio, as seen with hunter-gatherer populations (~3:1) and the Inuits (~1:4), was documented before the introduction of processed foods, suggesting that it is natural for humans to have a balanced ratio.

However, modern societies now have an average ratio of 16:1 [16], which is mainly caused by the excessive omega-6 contents of processed foods and oils.

The Benefits Of Omega-9

Omega-9 fatty acids are slightly different from omega-3’s and omega-6’s as they are a monounsaturated fatty acid and are not essential to be consumed in the diet – despite being the most abundant type of fat in most cells.

Chemically, they have just one double bond that is located nine carbons from the tail end of the fatty acid molecule.

The main metabolic roles of omega-9 in the body are the control of blood sugar levels, strengthening the immune system, and reducing inflammation.

Despite not needing to be consumed, one of the worlds healthiest and most proven diets, the Mediterranean diet, can prevent chronic inflammation, cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, and cancer, despite having a very high intake of omega-9’s from olive oil [17] [18]. Other human studies also report a reduction in blood levels of triglycerides and oxidized LDL by ~20% in high omega-9 diets [19].

Animal studies hypothesize that these effects may be coming from an inhibition of oxidative stress [20] coupled with an improved insulin sensitivity [21]. However, it is too early to claim that consuming omega-9 through the diet has any additional benefits compared to leaving the body to naturally synthesize it when needed.

Should You Supplement with Omega 3-6-9?

As the body can produce enough omega-9 fatty acids for metabolic function, it is not necessary to supplement with this particular type of fatty acid.

Therefore, the inclusion of omega-9’s within this supplement is unjustified and is purely used as a “filler” ingredient to make the product cheaper to produce.

Similarly, modern society already over-consumes omega-6 fatty acids from the diet as it is, and additional supplementation is not recommended and potentially harmful.

Omega-3 is the only type of fatty acid that may be good to supplement with due to its anti-inflammatory effects and associations with improved cardiovascular, mental, bone, and eye health.

Based on this evidence, it is recommended to supplement with an omega-3 only supplement as opposed to a trio of omega-3-6-9. That way people will get more bang for their buck!

Conclusion

Omega 3-6-9 supplements contain 3 separate types of fatty acids; omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are the only essential fatty acids out of the three, with omega-3 being the only type of fatty acid that has been linked to improving health markers such as reducing inflammation.

For this reason, it is recommended to stick to omega-3 only supplements as there is no good reason that other benefits will be seen from supplementing with omega-6 and omega-9.

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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.