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Essential Fatty Acids

We know that fats can be detrimental to our health. With heart disease being the leader in deaths in America, we have become very fat conscious. Many people are looking for fat free foods as a way to reduce high cholesterol and other disorders of improper fat metabolism. One problem associated with this fat free craze is that there are a group of fats called essential fatty acids. The operative word here is essential. This means that your body needs them from outside sources. Of course food is the best way to get them but this is difficult with all the processed food today. This article will deal with the importance of EFAs and their role in keeping us healthy.

Let’s look closer at EFAs and how they are instrumental in body functions. The main classes of EFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s are found primarily in fish oils but occur in flax seed oil and some nuts, particularly walnuts. Omega-6 EFAs are found in vegetable oils predominantly. There are five essential fatty acids that you need to remember:

LA – linoleic acid – an omega 6 found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
GLA – gamma linolenic acid – LA gets converted to GLA by enzymes in the body. If the liver cannot function properly the conversion is not efficient. Four seeds that contain GLA are evening primrose seed, hemp, black currant and borage.
ALA – alphalinoleic acid – an omega 3 fatty acid not commonly found in food – the highest amount being found in flax seed. The following are other sources of ALA: hemp, walnut, soybean, black currant, pumpkin, and canola (rape seed).
EPA & DHA – eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid – two omega 3 fatty acids found in cold water fish oil. These are important for the brain and nervous system.
The functions of EFAs are in the manufacture of prostaglandins, which are hormone like substances that are produced and used by all cells. Prostaglandins regulate body functions including cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. They also serve as structural parts of cell membranes and therefore help protect us from invading toxins, bacteria, viruses, carcinogens and allergens. EFAs deficiencies have been linked to a variety of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, allergies and MS and other immunological diseases.

Let’s get a closer look at these prostaglandins. They are classified into three series PGE1, PGE2 and PGE3.

PGE1 are considered probably the most important. They are formed from the EFA called gamma linolenic acid (GLA) this compound helps inhibit or reduce inflammation, platelet aggregation, thrombosis, cholesterol synthesis, blood vessel tone and the formation of abnormal cells. It is thought to help lower blood pressure and to protect the liver from the effects of alcohol and drugs. It also helps to maintain the salt and water balance, insulin secretion, nerve conduction and digestive functions. Evening primrose oil is considered the best source for the production of PGE1. The PGE3s act very similarly as the PGE1 series and are considered to be anti-inflammatory. PGE3’s are found in the fish oil called Max EPA, flax oil, black currant and borage oil.

PGE2s are formed by an EFA called arachidonic acid which is derived from animal fats mainly meat and dairy. This PGE has a different function that its’ counterparts PGE1 and PGE3. They stimulate inflammation, promote platelet aggregation, and cause the kidneys to retain salt.

Good health is dependent on the proper ratio of EFAs. The following conditions have benefited from the use of EFAs in the diet or from supplementation:

Cardiovascular disease- anti-inflammatory effects; by reducing platelet aggregation, thereby reducing clotting; lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.
Arthritis- anti-inflammatory; immune support; correcting possible EFA deficiencies.
Skin disorders- anti-inflammatory and immune support
Allergies, asthma- anti-inflammatory and immune support
Weight loss- (theoretical) increase in cellular metabolism; electrolyte and water balance
Multiple sclerosis- nerve conduction; immune support; decreased platelet aggregation
Hyperactivity-EFA deficiency- nerve conduction and reduction of allergy symptoms.
Nutritional supplements and foods that will aid proper EFA balance are:

Max-EPA- fish oil – therapeutic doses range form 3-12 grams per day. Capsules contain 1000 mg, which contain 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA.
Flax oil – 1-3 Tbsp. recommended daily. Must be eaten with foods for proper utilization. Low fat cottage cheese, butter or yogurt are good carriers. It cannot be cooked and must be kept refrigerated. Has a 3-month shelf life once opened. It can be taken in capsule form.
GLA- in the form of evening primrose oil, black currant or borage oil is available in capsules. Recommended dosage is approximately 240 mg GLA per day. This depends on type of conditions being treated.
Food sources of omega 3s are cold water fish such as; herring, salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, and shrimp. Flax seed and flaxseed oil are rich in ALA, which can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body. Good sources of omega-6 EFAs are high oleic safflower, canola, olive sunflower and sesame oils, nuts and seeds.

If you are dealing with any of the conditions mentioned in this article be sure to consult with an authoritative source or your health care practitioner before beginning a program for therapeutic results and dosage information.

A few good books on the subject are Fats That Heal Fats That Kill by Udo Erasmus, Fats That Can Save Your Life by Robert Erdmann, Ph.D. and Meiron Jones, Flaxseed Oil And The Power Of Omega -3 by Johnston C.N. and Johnston Ph.D.

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