Sunflower oil in a capsule, anyone?
"Omega 3-6-9" sounds really healthy and really holistic, right?
"Omega 3-6-9" supplements have been very popular the last few years. These supplements provide in the form of a capsule three classes of unsaturated fatty acids: omega-3 (polyunsaturates), omega-6 (polyunsaturates) and omega-9 (mono-unsaturates). According to the urban myth, all polyunsaturated fatty acids are good for you and people are tricked into thinking that by having an omega 3-6-9 capsule they get an all-rounded holistic supplementation of good fats.
However, this could not be further from the truth. The truth is that supplement companies take advantage of all the buzz about "good fats" over the last 10-20 years in order to sell health-conscious but misinformed consumers cheap oils that they do not need, at more than 10x times the price.
The Omega-6 "conspiracy"
The fact is that most of us receive way too much omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid, LA), which are found in almost every food. All animal foods, all seeds and nuts, almost all oils and almost all ready made foods and sweets contain high amounts of omega-6. In fact, we consume 5x times more omega-6 fatty acids than we should and one thing we definitely do NOT need is to supplement with these oils, especially in expensive, uncomfortable (who want to swallow capsules?), pointless, supplement form.
It is now well known to any nutritionist that excessive omega-6 fats encourage inflammation. This is because they are precursors of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins in the body.
So omega-6 oils in a capsule are neither healthy nor holistic, as we already get 500% more than we need from our diet and that excessive consumption is partially responsible for the low-grade inflammation epidemic people experience in the western world. Heart disease, arthritis and a host of other civilisation diseases are inflammatory conditions.
That is not to say that omega-6 oils per se are unhealthy. We all need some omega-6 fatty acids for a healthy functioning body, including inflammation, which has it's uses. The problem is that we consume excessive amounts of these fats today and as a result we encourage constant low-grade inflammation in our bodies.
All you need is Omega-3
On the other hand, what we do miss in our diet these days are omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. Omega-3s are precursors to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins in the body), i.e. the exact opposite of omega-6.
Like omega-6, omega-3 fatty acids are also required for normal functioning of not just inflammation but also hundreds of other processes in the body.
Unfortunately, most of us do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids, especially in relation to omega-6. A healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 4:1, whilst most people in the west today consume a ratio of 20:1 of those fats.
It is obvious that the last thing we need in a "omega" supplement is more omega-6 - it just does not make sense. Actually it only makes sense for supplement manufacturers, who sell us super cheap sunflower or similar oils rich in omega-6 at super premium price - mixed with some omega-3 for legitimacy. Of course, nobody in their right mind would buy sunflower oil in capsule form if it wasn't mixed with omega-3...
PUFAs and HUFAs
There are two types of omega 3s: PUFAs (polyunsaturated omega-3s) and HUFAs (highly unsaturated omega-3s). Our bodies need both types, but HUFAs are much more beneficial as they readily convert into the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins in our bodies, while PUFAs have only a 5% conversion efficiency.
PUFAs (linolenic acid, LNA) are typically found in vegetables, flax seeds (linseeds), chia seeds, walnuts and grass-fed meat, eggs and poultry. HUFAs (docosahexanoic acid, DHA and eicosapentanoic acid, EPA) are typically found in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, halibut and anchovies (but NOT in tuna, as most people believe).
Omega-9 fatty acids (oleic acid, OA) are also ubiquitous - they are found in most oils and other foods and especially in olive oil. With the availability of high quality, aromatic, tasty olive oil at less than £10/kg (the equivalent of 1,000 omega 3-6-9 capsules!), it is downright stupid to buy omega-9 in a capsule form - it just does not make any sense! One thing you don't need in an "omega" capsule is omega-9.
In fact, omega-6s and omega-9s in omega 3-6-9 capsules prevent you from having enough omega-3s, thereby stopping you from correcting the unnatural ratio of 20:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 you most probably consume.
So, if you feel that you need some healthy oils in your diet, take my advice and don't allow yourself to be victimised by buying cheap and unnecessary omega-6 or omega-3 oils in capsule form. All you need is omega-3!
The only "omega" supplement you need is omega-3
If you eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and oily fish and you don't mind eating some walnuts or putting some chia seeds or flaxseeds in your soup or salad, then there is no need to supplement with any "omega" oil.
If, however, you cannot eat or you simply do not like those foods, then the only "omega" supplements you need are the omega-3 one: a flaxseed oil capsule for PUFAs and a fish oil capsule for HUFAs.
More about fish oil
Regarding fish oil, make sure you buy pure "fish oil" and NOT "cod liver oil", which contains excessive amounts of vitamin A / retinol (retinol can be toxic in high amounts).
Fish oil or oily fish have also been proven to help you lose a moderate amount of weight: over 3-4 months, just by eating salon three times a week or taking the equivalent amount of fish oil capsules daily, you can lose 2-3 kg, with no other effort involved, as part of a healthy lifestyle (eating healthily and exercising moderately). This can also aid in cellulite reduction.
On the other hand, fish oil should be consumed in moderation, as it inhibits immunity, so an on-and-off approach (as opposed to continuous use) is warranted for high dosage consumption.
If you can not have fish oil for ethical reasons, you can try vegetarian EPA and vegetarian DHA oil capsules.
One last thing...
Before I end this article, I would like to note that there is another HUFA (gamma linoleic acid, GLA), which has quite similar effects to fish oils. GLA, although technically an omega-6 oil, is also a precursor of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, so it is quite different to the usual omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid, LA) found in most omega 3-6-9 capsules.
GLA is either not found in most omega 3-6-9 capsules or it is found in negligible quantities. GLA is also not found in any foods or dietary oils but it is found in supplements containing evening primrose oil (EPO), borage/starflower oil and blackcurrant oil. GLA's theoretical anti-inflammatory effect made many people to believe that it can have beneficial health effects, especially in conditions such as atopic dermatitis or arthritis, but unfortunately after decades of use and trials it was proven that this is not the case.
So, although GLA is promoted as a remedy for anything from eczema to period pains, the truth is that there is no need to supplement with this oil, because it simply does not work. This is in contrast to the real anti-inflammatory oils (fish oils) whose effectiveness is now widely accepted.
So the position that there is no need to supplement at all with omega-6 oils, even HUFA omega-6 such as GLA, still stands. All you need to consume more of is omega-3!