What is it about Omega-3 fatty acids?

Fats play a big role in our diet. Everywhere is to learn that we eat too much of it and therefore makes the bacon on our hips wide. But the saying "fat is not the same fat" is heard more often. The media report the special importance of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. In the form of fish oil capsules, cod liver oil and omega eggs you are now offered everywhere. They should have positive effects especially in cardiovascular diseases and rheumatism.

Omega-3 as protection against cancer?

The study results on the subject of cancer, however, are still contradictory. Recent research has found that fatty acids may not provide protection against cancer, either as fresh fish or as a nutritional supplement. But what about omega-3 fatty acids? What role do you play in the group of fats? What is the difference between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids?

How was it with the fats ...?

Before we delve into the depths of the special importance of omega-3 fatty acids, we would like to briefly explain where they are classified in the group of fats. Presumably, you have often heard the terms saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The fats are divided into these subgroups:

  • The saturated fatty acids occur primarily in animal products (meat, sausage, butter, lard, etc.). We should use them sparingly.
  • The monounsaturated fatty acids are found especially in vegetable oils such as olive and rapeseed oil. It can be something more.
  • Remain the polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are subdivided into omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. What this entails is explained in more detail below.

But let's start with: Omega-3 fatty acids have many positive effects on our body. Unfortunately, we do not take enough of the main suppliers of these fatty acids, cold-water fish. Therefore, more fish meals should be on the menu!

Omega - the small difference is important

Fatty acids consist of a chain of carbon atoms. The omega-3 fatty acids are like the omega-6 fatty acids to the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids. This means that the carbon chains are linked at several points by double bonds. Omega is the last carbon atom at the end of the chain.

Counting from this end the carbon atoms to the first position where the chain is connected by a double bond, we know what kind of fatty acid it is. As the name implies, the omega-3 fatty acids have the first double bond at position three and the omega-6 fatty acids at position six. Despite this relatively small deviation, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have very different properties and effects in the body.

Fatty acids: talents in terms of communication and regulation

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are important components of cell membranes. All cells of our body are surrounded by a cell membrane, which maintains the inner environment of the cell. It has important tasks in the communication of the cell and the exchange of substances between the cell interior and the extracellular space.

From the polyunsaturated fatty acids also in the human body tissue hormones, the so-called eicosanoids are formed. These tissue hormones are biologically highly active in minimal concentrations and play an important role in the regulation of many metabolic processes, for example in the proliferation of cells, in inflammatory reactions and in blood clotting.

Omega-3 and 6 - antagonists in the organism

The small difference between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids - the position of the first double bond - leads to tissue hormones (eicosanoids) being formed with very different, mostly even opposing effects.

Omega-3 fatty acids - not only healthy for the heart!

The positive properties of omega-3 fatty acids can be used in certain diseases. For example, vasodilatation and coagulation inhibition are favorable factors for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain function, as they increase the overall blood flow and thus improve the oxygen supply to the brain. They promote brain development and have positive effects on the immune system. The anti-inflammatory effect can be used in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism. For more information on these topics, see the second part of this article.

The ratio matters

A good balance between the effects of the two eicosanoid groups is important for normal metabolic function. Therefore, we need a balanced intake of both fatty acids. The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids should be 5: 1.

In fact, the quotient in Germany is about 7: 1, that is, there is still room for improvement in the composition. But in which foods are you and how much do we need?

Coldwater fish on the rise!

The most important source of omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna. Here you can see how much Omega-3 fatty acids contain different edible fish. Also in linseed, soybean and rapeseed oil are omega-3 fatty acids. We mainly use omega-6 fatty acids with vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower and corn oil. But meat and products made from it also contain omega-6 fatty acids.

To avoid deficiencies, it is recommended to consume 2.5 percent of the energy supplied in the form of omega-6 fatty acids and 0.5 percent omega-3 fatty acids. If you take in 2, 200 kcal a day, it should contain about 6 g omega-6 and 1.2 g omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

At least with the omega-6 fatty acids, there are hardly any problems. We are usually well taken care of. But the omega-3 fatty acids are in our diet too short. At least 1 to 2 fish meals per week should be on the menu, so that we are sufficiently supplied.

Omega-6Omega 3
Energy %:2.5 (about 6 g)0.5 (about 1.2 g)
Sources:Sunflower, corn germ, thistle oil, meatColdwater fish, rapeseed, soybean, linseed oil


The polyunsaturated omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important nutritional components. In particular, it depends on the ratio in which we take the two fatty acids to us. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids have many beneficial effects that we can take advantage in the prevention, but also the treatment of various diseases. An adequate supply is therefore essential to strive for. Two fish meals per week can make a good contribution to this.

Sources: German Society for Nutrition et al. (Ed.): DA-CH Reference Values ​​for Nutrient Supply 2000 German Nutrition Society (ed.): Ernährungsbericht 2004 Adam O (2002) Diet and advice in rheumatism and osteoporosis, Walter Hädecke Verlag

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