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Q1. What are omega fatty acids?
Ans. There are two essential fatty acids namely Alpha linolenic acid (ALA;Omega-3) and Linoleic acid (LA; Omega-6). They have 18 carbons in the long fatty acid chain. They have more than one double bond (unsaturation) and hence called polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). At their so called alpha end have carboxylic group and methyl group at their omega end. ALA has three double bonds, counted from their omega end, at 3, 6 and 9 positions. LA has two double bonds at omega minus 6 and 9 positions.
Q2. Why omega fatty acids are called essential fatty acids?
Ans. Omega -3 and omega-6 are called essential fatty acids as they cannot be synthesized in the human body. Human body has no capacity to insert double bonds at omega 3 and 6 positions. Human body cannot function normally, and cannot remain healthy, without the adequate supply of omega fatty acids in the form of food or supplement.
Q3. What is so special about omega-3 then?
Ans. Although both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids, actually the modern man gets enough in fact too much of omega-6 and very little omega-3 fatty acids in his diet today. This imbalance is actually one of the main reasons of our ill health today.
Q4. What is the remedy to correct this imbalance?
Ans. Obviously we need to cut down omega-6 intake and increase omega-3 intake. Omega-3 fatty acids have assumed extraordinary importance for human health today and it is not surprising that omega-3 fatty acids are most sought after nutrients today.
Q5. How can this imbalance be corrected?
Ans. High omega-6 intake is usually from the edible oils used in cooking. Most of our edible oils are rich in LA. We need to choose oils, low in omega-6, preferably rich in mono-unsaturated, omega-9 (oleic acid) fatty acid. Both saturated and omega-3 fatty acids are not desirable in cooking oil as the former is cholesterogenic and the latter is very unstable to heat and gets converted to toxic peroxides.
Q6. Why our present edible oils are so rich in omega-6 fatty acids.
Ans. This is precisely because saturated and hydrogenated fat are cholesterogenic and omega-6 lowers cholesterol. Promotion of omega-6 in edible oil was to deal with cholesterol problem.
Q7. Then what is the problem with omega-6 now?
Ans. Promotion of omega-6 in last century has been a biggest blunder of twentieth century.Omega-6 and omega-3 are oppositely acting fatty acids in human body.Omega-6 is generally pro-inflammatory and omega-3 is generally anti-inflammatory. Because of excess of omega-6 and very little of omega-3 in human food chain today, inflammatory pathway is dominant in human body today in almost all part of the world, resulting in increase in incidences and severity of degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, mental illness etc.