Effects Of Omega-3-6-9 Fatty Acids On Immune Function
The human body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to function. Every process that sustains life relies on nutrients. For example, healthy bone production requires calcium. For the body to absorb calcium, it needs vitamin D. The body’s systems are symbiotic in that they all work together with the nutrients you feed yourself to keep you healthy and safe from disease.
The system most notably associated with disease prevention and protection is the immune system. Multiple organs, glands, chemicals, and cells make up the entirety of the system. Like the rest of the body, they work together to ensure you're healthy. Immune system function is similar to a chain reaction. From the first initial sign of infection to the process of fighting it off, the immune system needs vitamins and minerals to perform that chain reaction.
Omega fatty acids are one such vitamin that contributes to immunity. But what are omegas, exactly? And what are the effects of omega-3-6-9 fatty acids on immune function? Let’s investigate.
What are omega-3-6-9 fatty acids?
Omegas are fatty acids. Fatty acids provide much-needed energy stores to the body and encourage proper cell and tissue metabolism. They also contribute to hormonal signals within the body. There are three different omegas, each given its number based on its chemical structure.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of fat the body can't make, known as polyunsaturated fats. These are considered essential fats that you must consume through your diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated and essential to one's overall health. The main benefit of omega-6 is energy. If the body doesn't have enough sugar stored for energy, it will go into omega-6 stores to make up for it.
Omega-9s are monounsaturated fats because their structure varies slightly compared to omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-9 occurs naturally in the body, so it is not considered as essential as dietary omega-3 and 6.
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Each form of omega has its own health benefits. Omega-3s play a prominent role in many bodily processes, including:
- Keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels where they need to be
- Reducing or managing mental health disorders such as depression
- Weight management
- Decreasing the amount of fat the liver stores to reduce the risk of fatty liver disease
- Fighting inflammation that can cause or be caused by chronic health disorders
Omega-6 plays its part in keeping the body healthy by encouraging the proper function of:
- Hair and skin growth
- Bone production and breakdown
- The reproductive system
While omega-9s occur naturally, they are still beneficial if consumed through diet. Research shows that getting enough of this nutrient contributes to:
- A reduction in inflammation
- Improved insulin sensitivity, which can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes
Each omega lends a hand to a different bodily process, making all three crucial for overall health.
Do omegas help the immune system?
All three omega-fatty acids aid in the proper functioning of the immune system. However, they do so in different ways.
Omega-9s are essential for immune functioning for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory proteins known as cytokines
- Increasing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines
- Improving the clearance of bacteria from the body
- Reducing the accumulation of immune cells at the site of infection
When looking at omega-6, research has found that it can be pro-inflammatory. While that may sound like a bad thing, the inflammatory response is part of the immune system. It is needed to help trigger immune cells to fight off infection.
However, too much inflammation can be a bad thing. Omega-3s can balance out this inflammation. Because of that, a specific ratio guides how you should consume them, ranging from 1-1 to 1-4. For every omega-6, for example, you should get at least one to four omega-3s.
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What is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in immune function?
Omega-3s are essential for immune function. The nutrient affects various areas of immunity, promoting good overall health and preventing disease. Research finds that omega-3s, when taken in proper amounts, can aid in the production of cytokines. These proteins are part of the communication process between cells within the immune system.
Chemokines, which are other immune proteins, are used to direct or signal immune cells to the area of the body that has the infection. That is so they can begin their battle to kill whatever is causing the illness. Omega-3s help to produce these chemokines.
Other immune benefits of omega-3 include:
- Suppression of inflammation
- Increasing B-cells (immune cells)’ abilities to fight off disease
- Enhancing immune cell function by supporting the structural integrity of the cell
- Strengthening of immune cells by remodeling their cell membrane
- Aiding in the activation of immune cells known as macrophages
While omega-3s can significantly improve the function of the immune system, taking too many can hurt immunity. Research has found that excessive omega-3 levels in the body lead to dysregulation of the immune system. If your omega-3 intake is too high, the immune system does not respond to viral or bacterial infections as it should.
The key to optimizing omegas for immune health is getting enough without consuming too much. That way, you can reap the immune benefits without worrying about overloading your body.
Featured image by Farhad Ibrahimzade on Unsplash
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