Fat, Fatty Acids, and Omega Fatty Acids

Fish are rich in 3-omega fatty acids. - PD Image Pixabay
Fish are rich in 3-omega fatty acids.

“Pretty young things” run around uttering words the media have injected into their vocabulary, including among them the expression omega fatty acids. But, in fact, most of them have no idea what an omega fatty acid is.

Let’s go a step further on that. They don’t know what any kind of fatty acid is. In fact, ask them to define what fat is, and they will only be able to describe it and tell you where you can obtain some, not they haven’t a clue as to what it actually is.

But that is OK. One doesn’t need to know every aspect of a subject to be able to function. You needn’t know the workings of a computer to appreciate and use one.

What is a Fatty Acid?

Yes, a fat is an oily or greasy substance, found around body organs; however those words don’t tell you what it actually is. Chemically, a fat or triglyceride is a compound derived from glycerin and three fatty acids. Typically, the fatty acids contain and even number of carbon atoms, 12 to 28 in number. What makes these lengthy (and hence, fatty) chains acids? They contain a carboxylic acid group at the end of the chain, -COOH.

Let’s visualize a simple 12-carbon atom fatty acid by drawing a chemical formula for it:

CH₃-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-COOH

What is an Omega Fatty Acid?

What is an omega fatty acid? (ω-fatty acid)? Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and is the designation given to the carbon atom of the carboxylic acid group carbon atom. Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet, and is assigned to the carbon atom of the methyl group (CH₃-), it being the carbon atom farthest away from the carboxylic acid group.

Starting from the omega end, the first double bond of a polyunsaturated (many double bonds) fatty acid is given a specific number, say 3, 6, etc.

Thus, for example purposes only (since it is neither polyunsaturated, nor of serious health consideration purposes), the above fatty acid, if it had a double bond at the 3-omega position would be written:

CH₃-CH₂-CH=CH-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-COOH

The beginning of the double bond, starting from the methyl group (carbon 1), is at the 3rd carbon position, and attaches to the 4th carbon atom.

Actual “Healthful” Fatty Acids

One of the 3-omega fatty acids considered healthful by enthusiasts, is alpha-linolenic acid (α-linolenic acid):

CH₃-CH₂-CH=CH-CH₂-CH=CH-CH₂-CH=CH-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂COOH

The 6-omega fatty acid, linoleic acid, on the other hand, is written:

CH₃-CH₂-CH–CH-CH₂-CH=CH-CH₂-CH=CH-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂-CH₂COOH

In its case, there is no double bond at the 3 (to 4) omega carbon position.

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