Omega-9 fatty acid is an unsaturated fatty acid, like other omega fatty acids. Omega-9 is a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) that has a single double bond, like omega-7 fatty acid. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids since they contain multiple double bonds. However, omega-9 fatty acid can also be a polyunsaturated acid – for instance, mead acid (a type of omega-9 fat). Unlike omega-3 and omega-6, omega-9 fatty acid is not an essential fatty acid because the body can make its own omega-9s and need not be completely dependent on food for the same. The body cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on its own.
The omega-9 fatty acid comprises carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. The number ‘9’ in omega-9 indicates the double bond’s positioning, which is ninth from the “omega”, which is the tail end; “alpha” denotes the beginning of the chain. In other words, omega-9’s first double bond is on the ninth carbon. This means omega-9 is further away from the omega end compared to omega-3, omega-6, and omega-7. The farther away the carbon double bond, the easier it is for the body to make the acid.
The human body makes omega-9 fatty acids from unsaturated fat. When there is no sufficient amount of omega-3 and omega-6 in the body, omega-9 makes up for that deficiency and momentarily becomes an essential fatty acid in the process. Once the body gets its omega-3 and omega-6 fats, omega-9 fat ceases to be “essential” anymore. Therefore, consuming good amounts of omega-9s through food would be beneficial – not to mention, the zero or minimal omega-9 side effects.
The human body has more omega-9s than omega-3, omega-6, etc. In fact, omega-9 is the fatty acid that gets stored in the body as fat. The body’s fat cells can create omega-9 fat from fatty acids or unsaturated fat that aren’t burned. Despite omega-9’s ability to substitute omega-3 and omega-9, it shouldn’t be seen as a permanent replacement, since the lack of omega-3 and omega-9 fat would hurt the body in the long run.
Omega-9 fats can be found in peanuts, avocados, virgin olive oil (virgin or extra-virgin), almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, etc. To derive maximum omega-9 fats from these food items, it’s important the food is fresh and of the highest quality. Organic, raw nuts must be bought in batches and kept in the freezer, as they could go stale quickly. Though not the preferred or recommended source, omega-9 can also be taken as supplements.
The primary form of omega-9 fatty acid is oleic acid, which is why omega-9 fatty acid is also called oleic acid. It’s the most beneficial omega-9 fat and found in canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil. There are three other important omega-9 fatty acids: mead acid, nervonic acid, and erucic acid. The remaining two acid types are gondoic acid and elaidic acid.
- Oleic acid: A monounsaturated fat, oleic acid is liquid and doesn’t have any color. It occurs as glyceride in vegetable oils and animal fats.
- Mead acid: This acid is polyunsaturated and has anti-inflammatory traits.
- Erucic acid: A monounsaturated acid like the oleic acid, erucic acid is found in wallflower seeds.
- Nervonic acid: Another monounsaturated omega-9 fat, nervonic acid benefits the brain and is typically found in the white matter of human brains. King salmon, yellow mustard seeds, flaxseeds, etc. are rich in this acid.
- Elaidic acid: It is a monounsaturated acid found in some vegetable oils and meats. The acid is also used to make cosmetic lotions.
- Gondoic acid: This monounsaturated fat is found in plant oils and nuts.
There are several health benefits to the monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid:
- Omega-9 fat can increase HDL “good” cholesterol and decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol. This helps get rid of plaque build-up within the arteries, thereby reducing stroke and heart attack risks.
- Could also increase metabolism and improve mood and play a part in bringing blood pressure under control.
- Reduces insulin resistance, improves immune function, and also safeguards against certain kinds of cancer.
- Improves vitamin absorption, both externally sourced vitamins and the ones the body makes on its own.
- Helps weight gain, especially when omega-9 consumption isn’t supplemented by some level of exercise or physical activity.
The lack of omega-9s could cause eczema-like eruptions in the skin, peeling/cracking fingertips, hair loss, dandruff, male sterility, dry skin and eyes, growth retardation, painful or stiff joints, etc. As far as side effects go, there are none reported. However, erucic acid is an exception as too much of it could result in thrombocytopenia, a blood clotting condition that could lead to bruises even when a person is not injured.