Essential Fatty Acids
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Essential Fatty Acids form a group of nutrients which, until recently, have been largely overlooked and undervalued. As scientists’ knowledge grows, the impact essential fatty acids (EFAs) have on health, their inclusion in a healthy diet routine grows. EFAs cannot be synthesized in the body and so must be obtained from the diet.
Essential Fatty Acids are comprised of two groups: Omega 3 and Omega 6. (Omega 9 fatty acids can be synthesized by the body and so are not considered “essential.”) The primary Omega 3 fatty acid is alpha linolenic acid and the primary omega 6 fatty acid is linoleic acid. Both are available from plant sources and omega 3 is also available from animal sources, primarily oily fish. The body is able to produce DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from alpha linolenic acid as well as obtain it directly from animal food sources. Linoleic acid (omega 6) is converted to GLA (gamma linoleic acid). These long-chain polyunsaturated acids play an increasingly vital role in good health.
EFAs support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems and are needed to manufacture and repair cell membranes. One of the primary functions of EFAs is the production of prostaglandins. These elements help regulate a number of body functions including heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, regulating inflammation and encouraging the body to fight infection.
Omega 3 deficiency is common. Doctors recommend a ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 in the range of 1:1 to 1:4 but due to lower fish consumption and higher fat intake, the ratio in Americans is as high as 1:40! EFA deficiency and imbalance in the ratio can lead to a number of health problems including heart attack, insulin resistance, asthma, stroke, obesity, diabetes, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research indicates increasing omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids in proper ratios may result in a number of benefits. Improved EPA and DHA intake were related to decreases in cardiovascular diseases. Omega 3 has been so effective that it is now recommended by the American Heart Association. EPA and DHA has also helped decrease tender joints in those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis and may benefit those suffering with diabetes mellitus. Preliminary data suggests Omega 3 essential fatty acids may benefit individuals with depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia although more research is needed. GLA has shown positive benefits for women experiencing symptoms of PMS or menopause.
Essential fatty acids are available in several forms. Oily fish are a prime source. Herring, tuna, salmon and cod provide high amounts. Fish are also often processed into over the counter supplements. Cod liver oil is a popular liquid supplement but be certain it is processed to remove harmful elements. Plant sources of EFAs include flax seed oil, borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and black currant oil.
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