If you’re interested in health, then you’re probably aware of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, commonly known simply as omega-3s. Although these compounds certainly have powerful health benefits, they’re not the only health-promoting fatty acids. Another important group of fats are the omega-5s.
Although not many people are aware of them yet, omega-5s are emerging as being important in many different aspects of health. They’ve been shown to reduce inflammation, protect the brain, maintain the body’s insulin sensitivity, and even have anti-cancer properties.
What are omega-5s, and how can they help to protect your health?
- Omega-5s are a group of fatty acids found in pomegranate seed oil and other foods, and are known for their health benefits.
- They have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help to protect your cells from damage.
- Studies have found that omega-5s can help maintain insulin sensitivity, promote healthy cholesterol balance, reduce the risk of cancer, maintain a healthy body weight, and protect the brain from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
What are omega-5 fatty acids?
Like omega-3s, omega-5s are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The difference lies in the specific location of the “bend” in the hydrocarbon chain of the fat. In an omega-3 fatty acid, this occurs three carbons from the end of the chain; in an omega-5 fatty acid, it’s five carbons from the end. Otherwise, the structures are very similar.
There are several specific fatty acids within the omega-5 group. One of the most well-known is punicic acid. This compound is found in pomegranate seed oil, which is a food that’s been known for its numerous health-promoting benefits for years. Chemically, punicic acid is a type of conjugated linolenic acid (CLnA), and is sometimes referred to by this name in scientific studies.
Unsaturated fatty acids are important in keeping cell membranes flexible, rather than stiff. Because of this, they can have effects throughout the body, on many different organs. Fatty acids can also change the activity of certain proteins within cells, which affects the cell’s function. This helps to explain how omega-5s are able to produce beneficial results in so many different body systems.
What are the health benefits of omega-5 fatty acids?
There’s been a lot of research interest in omega-5s recently, as these compounds are emerging as being important contributors to human health. There are a large number of known omega-5 fatty acid benefits, with more research continuing to occur.
Chronic inflammation within the body is believed to underlie the development of a whole host of disorders, from atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) to cancer. Decreasing levels of inflammation is crucial, in order to protect your long-term health and promote longevity.
Omega-5s have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. They’ve been shown to decrease the activity of certain enzymes that would activate an inflammatory response by white blood cells. They also activate certain proteins that quiet down the inflammatory response. Together, these actions help to reduce inflammation, preventing it from getting out of control and causing damage.
When your cells metabolize oxygen, toxic chemicals known as reactive oxygen species are produced. It’s important to quickly deal with these, because otherwise they can damage a cell’s proteins or DNA. This can interfere with the cell’s function and may even cause cancer. This is known as oxidative stress, and it’s believed to be a major contributor to the aging process.
An antioxidant acts to soak up reactive oxygen species before they can cause damage. Omega-5s are known to be potent antioxidants, which gives them the ability to protect cells throughout your body from damage.
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body process carbohydrates. In people with type 2 diabetes, insulin sensitivity is reduced, meaning that cells have stopped responding to insulin. This raises blood sugar, leading to a hugely increased risk of serious health complications. Improving insulin sensitivity would help to reduce the risk of these issues. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes worldwide.
Studies have shown that omega-5s can help to maintain insulin sensitivity in mice, even when they’re fed a diet that makes them obese. This effect has been consistent across multiple studies. This should help to prevent the development of diabetes, and its associated serious complications.
Studies have shown that feeding obese rats an omega-5 supplement reduced the amount of fat that accumulated in their liver. Because fat in and around the abdominal organs is strongly associated with health problems, this would be expected to decrease the risk of some of the serious issues that are associated with being overweight.
Some studies have also shown that giving overweight mice an omega-5 supplement on a daily basis helped them to lose weight. While omega-5s are certainly not a “weight loss miracle drug,” they may help to support a healthy metabolism to help you maintain a healthy weight, along with decreasing the amount of fat that accumulates in your organs.
The types of fatty acids that you consume have an impact on the type of cholesterol that your body makes. There are two main types of cholesterol. LDL, sometimes known as “bad cholesterol,” increases the risk of problems like heart attack and stroke. HDL, sometimes known as “good cholesterol,” protects against these events.
For optimal health, you want to have high levels of HDL and low levels of LDL. A placebo-controlled trial showed that giving people an omega-5 supplement increased their levels of HDL. This should help to protect them against serious health problems like strokes and heart attacks.
Studies in the laboratory have shown that omega-5s also have anti-cancer properties. Punicic acid has been shown to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells. In mice, it also slows tumor growth and decreases the risk that the cancer will metastasize (spread to other parts of the body). In addition, punicic acid has been shown to increase the rate of cell death in cancer cells, which would cause a tumor to shrink.
Although we still need more clinical trials to verify that omega-5s decrease the risk of cancer, experts believe that these fatty acids are very promising for cancer prevention.
Unsaturated fatty acids are very important for brain function, because they’re important in keeping cell membranes fluid. It’s long been known that these fats are necessary for proper brain development in babies and children, and it’s now becoming increasingly clear that they’re also important at the other end of the lifespan.
Due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of omega-5s, they help to protect brain cells from damage, which could help to slow the age-related loss of brain cells. Because brain cells don’t divide, the brain can’t make more of them, so it’s crucial to protect them as much as possible. Omega-5s also help to keep the cell membranes of brain cells healthy, which is important in functions like memory.
In addition, omega-5s have been shown to decrease the amount of a protein called beta-amyloid that accumulates in the brain. This protein builds up to high levels in people with Alzheimer’s disease, so slowing down its accumulation is believed to help protect the brain from this deterioration.
A structure called the blood-brain barrier helps to prevent unwanted substances from entering into brain tissue, and fatty acids may not always cross this barrier. Particular formulations of omega-5s are needed to enhance the amount of the fatty acid that actually makes it into the brain, where it can help to promote brain health.
Because it’s a strong antioxidant, omega-5s may help to protect the skin from inflammation. One recent study investigated the ability of an omega-5 known as conjugated linolenic acid to reduce inflammation created by laser treatments of the skin. Patients who applied topical omega-5 to the face had less swelling and itching than those who used a placebo, indicating that they experienced less skin inflammation.
Because of their ability to reduce inflammation in the skin, omega-5s could also be helpful for those who suffer from inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.
Omega-5s offer a range of health benefits
Although they’re still relatively unknown by the general public, omega-5s are attracting a lot of research attention, because they offer such a wide range of health benefits. These powerful fatty acids could help to prevent many of the common diseases that can cause disability and decrease a person’s lifespan. It’s likely that omega-5 fatty acids will start to become more widely known in the coming years, as omega-3s already have.