What are omega fatty acids?
The polyunsaturated fatty acids required by an individual's body are known as omega fatty acids. Because of the precise location of the double bond within their structure, these are named "Omega". The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are the most well-known omega fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids that have many healthy benefits.
There are two forms of unsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. “Unsaturated,” tells us that these fatty acids contain double bonds, and the term “mono” and “poly” demonstrates whether they have one or many double bonds.
What are the types of omega fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated in nature. The Omega 3 Alpha Linolenic acid is not formed in the human body which is why it is known as an essential fat that has to be consumed from our food.
The 3 main Omega-3 fatty acids that have benefits to our body are:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): This fatty acid has 18 carbons in its chain and can be transformed into EPA or DHA. It regulates the functioning of the nervous system, immune system as well as the cardiovascular system. (3)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA): contains 20 carbon atoms. Its main role in the body is the production of eicosanoids, the chemicals that help reduce inflammation. (1)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): This fatty acid contains 22 carbon atoms. It has a role in the development and function of the brain and visual equity.. (DHA contributes to 8% of brain weight). (2)
EPA and DHA are commonly referred to as marine omega-3s, mainly present in fish. ALA is present abundantly in vegetable oil, flax seeds, leafy vegetables, nuts, and animal fats.
Functions of omega-3 fatty acids in the body
Heart Health: Omega-3 fatty acids are important in managing blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and serum triglycerides. (4)
Liver Health: Consumption of omega-3 fats helps in the reduction of liver fat. (5)
Mental Health: Omega-3 fats help prevent and manage depression and psychosis. (6)
Brain Health: Omega-3 helps in brain development in kids. (7)
Inflammation: Omega-3 helps in the reduction of inflammation in the body caused due to chronic stress. (8)
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are a second family of polyunsaturated fats needed for the body's healthy functioning. It has the following types:
- Linoleic Acid (LA): It is one of the most prominent omega-6 fatty acids present in the diet and is essential, meaning it has to be consumed from our food. It is a precursor for other omega-6 fatty acids. It is abundant in vegetable oils, for instance, sunflower, soybean, and corn oil. (9)
- Arachidonic Acid (AA): It is produced from linoleic acid. It plays an important role in the normal functioning of the cardiovascular system and brain. It also helps in the synthesis of eicosanoids, essential for the immune system and blood clotting. Its sources are meat, dairy, eggs, and certain plants. (10)
- Gamma-Linoleic acid (GLA): This fatty acid possesses anti-inflammatory properties. It might be transformed into specific favorable components known as prostaglandins, which assist in controlling immunological response, tone of blood vessels, and inflammatory response. Oils, such as borage, evening primrose, and Black currant seed oil, are all high in GLA.(11)
- Dihomo-Gamma-Linolenic Acid (DGLA): Linoleic acid is transformed into arachidonic acid via the intermediary dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid. In addition to having anti-inflammatory effects, it contributes to the production of numerous useful eicosanoids that control inflammatory and immune system responses. DGLA can be present in small quantities in an array of food items, notably a number of vegetable oils and livestock products.(12)
Functions of omega-6 fatty acids in body
Even though the human body needs omega-6 fatty acids, it's essential that we keep the amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in control. The optimal proportion should be around 4:1 or less since excessive omega-6 intake in comparison to omega-3 has been scientifically linked with higher inflammatory response and an array of medical conditions. Some important functions of omega-3 fatty acids are the following (13):
- Immune response: Omega-6 fatty acids are important for both starting and controlling immunological and inflammatory responses. They act as building blocks for the formation of eicosanoids, which are essential to these functions. However, consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids in contrast to omega-3s might cause prolonged inflammation.
- Hair and Skin: The maintenance of good hair and skin relies on omega-6 fatty acids. In addition to regulating the production of oils and enhancing the hydration of the skin, they also aid in maintaining the framework and functionality of the skin membrane. Skin health can be compromised, and chapped skin may occur due to omega-6 fatty acid deficiency.
- Brain health: The brain and neurological system possess modest quantities of omega-6 fatty acids, particularly arachidonic acid. They participate in the development of the brain, mental processing, and neurologic health, as well as the formation and operation of cellular membranes.
Hormones: Omega-6 fatty acids contribute to the synthesis as well as the management of hormones. They function as the building blocks for prostaglandins, lipid signaling compounds that control a number of biological functions, such as inflammatory processes, clotting of the blood, and contraction of smooth muscles.
What are the best omega-3 and 6 sources for babies and toddlers?
Breast Milk: Mother's milk is the dietary source of omega-3 fats for exclusively breastfed babies. It has a healthy amount of omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. These are significant for cerebral cortex development and the health of the eyes. (16)
Fish: When babies begin consuming solid foods around 6 months of age, it is advantageous to gradually introduce age appropriate fatty fish( Trout, salmon, mackerel) that are rich in healthy fats like EPA and DHA. (17)
Flax seeds: You can include ground flaxseeds in your older child's meals when they are able to consume small grounded seeds. They are a top supplier of alpha-linolenic acid and the essential omega 3 fatty acids. (18)
Chia seeds: Chia seeds serve as a natural dietary reservoir of omega-3s, just like flaxseeds. These seeds can be incorporated into fruit smoothies, yogurt, or desserts for toddlers. They offer alpha-linolenic acid as well as fiber, which adds to the health benefits. (19)
Breast/ formula milk: Omega-6 fatty acids are normally present in sufficient amounts in breast milk or appropriately designed infant formulae. (20)
Vegetable oils: Omega-6 fatty acids are prevalent in vegetable cooking oils like soybean, sunflower, corn, and safflower oils. These oils could be used to make baby food or prepare meals for everyone in the household. (21)
- Nuts and Seeds: Seeds like sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and nuts, including almonds and walnuts, can be offered to toddlers as paste/ butter or paste which are age-appropriate in their textute for young children and can be incorporated in recipes like smoothies, mashed fruits, or yogurt. These offer other crucial minerals as well as omega-6 fatty acids. (22)
Do omega-3 and 6 have side effects?
Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids, especially supplements containing fish oil, can have moderate side effects, including a fishy aftertaste, belching, or digestive issues. Therefore, getting medical advice before initiating any high-dose omega-3 treatment is crucial.
Omega-6 fatty acids are generally beneficial, but consuming too many of them in place of omega-3s might lead to an imbalance. This disparity could trigger inflammation and possibly raise the chance of developing particular medical diseases. The omega-3 to omega-6 proportion in food must be kept in check. It's generally advised to eat a range of omega-6 sources in moderation.
In summary, omega-3 and omega-6 acids are beneficial for the growth and development of infants and young children. The development of the brain and general health are aided by omega-3 fatty acids, which are largely found in fish, breast milk, and various plant sources. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for maintaining healthy skin as well as managing inflammation. They can be found in nuts and vegetable oils. A varied and packed with nutrients diet is essential to guarantee an appropriate amount of these fatty acids.
The content and advice provided in this article are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.
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