There’s a lot of talk about certain omega fatty acids today – like omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids – and the need to consume them in our diet (or even to supplement the diet with them). Why? Some omega fatty acids –linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – are “essential” meaning that our bodies don’t make them so we rely on food sources to provide the building blocks for these fatty acids. Additionally, omega 3 fatty acids provide anti-inflammatory power helps balance our bodies in favor of appropriate inflammation. Omega 9, olive oil is a notable dietary source, receives great popularity with the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. But when talking about omega fatty acids and their health benefits, who says we should be count by threes (3,6,9) – in doing so we might just leap frog over some omega fatty acids with health benefits themselves (5,7).
Omega 7, known as palmitoleic acid, may appear to have ‘minor’ status in the world of monounsaturated fats but its health benefits are hardly such. Omega 7 helps regulate fat and blood sugar metabolism (in adipose tissue and in the pancreas). In vitro studies suggest that omega 7 helps improve the function of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. And when it comes to the skin, omega 7 is no ‘minor leaguer’…it is a major fatty acid in epithelial cell membranes – this means skin, blood vessels and mucous membranes. The presence of omega 7 in the epithelial cell membrane plays a protective role including inhibiting bacterial growth, as well promoting tissue recovery and healing. Research specifically on sea buckthorn oil, (which contains 30-40% omega 7), shows its role in improving eczema, acne, oral and stomach ulcers, and vaginal irritation / dryness. Dietary sources of omega 7 fatty acids include wild salmon, macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn berries.
Omega 5, otherwise known as myristoleic acid, is less common in nature – found primarily in the seed oil from plants in the Myristicaceae genus where nutmeg is the most well known; the oil is also extracted from saw palmetto. Myristoleic acid extracted from saw palmetto has shown to effectively combat cancer cells in prostate and pancreatic cancers. Additionally, omega 5 may play a key role in the inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase, a mediator of inflammation, thus, by acting in this anti-inflammatory capacity it helps to promote appropriate inflammation in the body. Food sources of omega 5, beyond extracting myristoleic acid from the aforementioned plants, include the fat of marine animals (wild Alaskan salmon), beavers, and bovines.
So, omega 5 and 7, are they in you? Seems like they should be. How? Consider that whole food sources – plant and animal – contain an array of omega fatty acids thus they are your best insurance to get all of these nutrients. But what if you don’t eat fish, macadamia nuts or what if you are trying to treat one of the symptoms or diseases noted above and want to try omega fatty acid supplementation? One key takeaway from this omega story is that rather than picking one or two favorites – Mother Nature doesn’t – think of your omega consumption like an orchestra – all the different omegas playing together make the sweetest music. Whether food or supplement, consider making the choice that provides an array of omega fatty acids. Afterall, a whole food approach to nutrition will help ensure you get omegas 5, 7 and 3, 6, 9 in you for optimal health.