Fatty Acids: Essential Information

March 3, 2010 at 6:07 pm 1 comment

What Are Essential Fatty Acids and Why Are They Essential?

Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. Some fatty acids are “essential” because we need them to live, yet we cannot manufacture our own, so we must ingest them through the foods we eat. The word “essential” is used to mean “must be ingested”. Other fatty acids are manufactured by the body, thus although we need them, they are not labeled as “essential”.

The polyunsaturated fatty acids — chemically speaking, those that are not “saturated” and thus have more than 1 double bond — are divided into families depending on where their end-most double bond is located. There are two main subtypes of fatty acids: the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The Omega-3’s are those with their endmost double bond 3 carbons from their methyl end. The Omega-6’s are those with their endmost double bond 6 carbons from their methyl end.

Linoleic acid (an omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3) are the only true “essential” fatty acids, because although a slow process, given enough alpha-linolenic acid, the body can synthesize eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — both important fatty acids of the omega-3 family. But, in order to effectively increase the body’s stores, they too must be consumed.

What Do Essential Fatty Acids’s (EFA’s) Do For Me?

  • treat Eczema and maintain healthy skin
  • maintain healthy heart and arteries
  • maintain mood through prostaglandin modulation
  • keep cell membranes working properly and efficiently
  • treat Diabetic neuropathy
  • relieve PMS and cyclical breast pain

Why Do I Need Essential Fatty Acids?

You need them to live. Many people are in a state of chronic low levels of essential fatty acids. EFA’s are needed for maintaining proper cell membrane structure–which allows the proper distribution of nutrients throughout your body, they are needed for proper prostaglandin formation and maintenance (please see our 40-30-30 page for more information on this topic), and most notably for the efficient metabolism of cholesterol. It has been repeatedly noted in population studies that people who consume more fish (omega-3’s) consistently have a lower incidence of heart disease. Autopsies done on corpses have revealed a direct inverse correlation between the amount of omega-3’s present and the healthiness of the heart. Those with low levels of omega-3’s showed
greater incidence of coronary heart disease than those with high levels of omega-3’s and those with the highest levels of omega-3’s had the lowest incidence of coronary heart disease.

Essential Fatty Acids are as essential as vitamins. They are essential because if you do not get enough of them you will become ill in some way; without linoleic acid (an EFA), you will die. Most North Americans get little or none of these EFAs. The body does not manufacture EFA’s, you must obtain them through your diet and the great majority of foods do not contain Essential Fatty Acids. It has been shown that body cells deprived of Essential Fatty Acids become cancerous, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to heal from cancer without adequate levels of these essential fats.

What Foods Contain EFAs?

Food sources of linoleic acid include seeds, nuts, grains and legumes. Alpha-linoleic acid is found in the green leaves of plants, including phytoplankton and algae, and in some seeds, nuts and legumes (flax, canola, walnuts and soy). Flax seed above all is the highest best quality concentration of Omega-3 fatty acid.

Am I Not Supposed To Avoid Fat?

You should only avoid trans fatty acids, such as those found in deep fried foods. Fats, whether they started out good or not, are irrevocably changed for the worse when they are heated. EFA’s are polyunsaturated; they have carbon bonds that are easily broken and do not result in harm to the body. When EFA’s are heated their bonds change and they become trans fatty acids: sticky and harmful fats that are not easily broken down by the body.

How Much Essential Fatty Acids Supplementation Do I Need?

Omega3 Fatty Acids are essential to the body and our bodies cannot make them. And most people do not get nearly enough of them in their diet. Most people consume too much omega-6 relative to the amount of omega-3 that they get. Vegetarians must be particularly careful because it is much easier to get supplies of omega-6 in the vegetarian diet. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 that should be ingested is around 6:1 for fish-eaters, and 3:1 for vegetarians (because they need to manufacture their own EPA and DHA). Flaxseed oil (or simply flax seeds) is a good choice to boost the intake of omega-3.

Are There Any Side Effects With Essential Fatty Acids?


Can you tell me more about Flax seed?

Flax, an ancient but little known seed, has recently gained worldwide recognition for its many nutritional attributes. Seven years ago, researchers from The University of Toronto began to study the potential benefits of flax. Their results showed that flax seed could lower serum cholesterol and also prevent the growth of new cancer cells. The prediction is: flax will likely be found in many new foods in the near future. In Dr. Andrew Weil’s new book “Eight Weeks to Optimum Health” flax seeds are the first things that he suggests that anyone interested in eating healthier do. He recommends whole flax seeds ground into cereal or sprinkled on foods, but they are also available in capsule form or in flax seed oil. The FDA presented their findings at a recent convention on Experimental Biology and related the following findings: Levels of 1.25 and 2.5% flax in the diet stimulated the immune system. flax increased vitamin D levels and increased the retention of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. flax is very high in lignans which have anti-tumor properties and may be linked to a low incidence of breast cancer and colon cancer. Moderately high levels of flax, compared to the same level of oat bran was better in lowering triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL, and favorable effects on insulin activity. flax seeds are very reasonable priced and seem to be a valuable addition to the daily diet


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Nina Bailey  |  March 4, 2010 at 9:08 am

    You may want to check out echium seed oil as a novel source of omega-3 for vegetarians and vegans. It is unique because unlike flaxseed oil or hemp oil, it contains high levels of stearidonic acid or SDA which converts more efficiently to EPA than ALA. Because the conversion step from ALA to SDA by delta-6 desaturase is rate limiting, many vegans and vegetarians can struggle to achieve optimal levels of the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. By bypassing this step with the inclusion of SDA in an oil significantly increases the levels of EPA and DHA. Because echium seed oil has only recently gained novel food approval it is relatively unfamiliar to many people. If you want more info then check out the site below.




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