Essential Fatty Acids

Written By: Steven Horne

Essential Fatty Acids Pix.jpgOur culture has conditioned us to think of fats as bad for our health.  Advertising pitches "low fat," "no cholesterol" and "fat free" as healthier foods. But, it's not that fats themselves are bad for us. We need fats, but we need the right kinds of fats.

Just like there is a vast difference between eating fresh fruits and vegetables for carbohydrates versus eating refined sugar and white flour for carbohydrates, there is a big difference between eating processed vegetable oils and deep fried foods and eating the natural fats found in fish, nuts and other foods.

The fact is that the body needs fats. Fats are used for fuel, especially for the heart.  They help us stay warm in cold weather.  They keep our skin soft and moist. Fats are also needed for cell membranes and structures (particularly in the nervous system), immune functions and hormone production.   

Fats are composed of fatty acids. In fact, all dietary fats are triglycerides, which mean they are composed of three fatty acids attached to a molecule of glycerin.

Fatty acids are long chains of carbon molecules with hydrogen molecules attached to them.  If all the carbon atoms have hydrogen molecules attached to them, the fat is saturated.  If some of the carbon atoms are missing hydrogen atoms, the fatty acid is unsaturated.

Triglycerides composed primarily of saturated fatty acids tend to be solid at room temperature, while triglycerides composed of unsaturated fatty acids tend to be liquid at room temperature.  However, all natural fats and oils are actually mixtures of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

A monounsaturated fatty acid has only one pair of carbon atoms missing one hydrogen molecule each.  A polyunsaturated fatty acid has two or more pairs of carbon atoms missing hydrogen bonds.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential fatty acids, because our body can't make them.  We have to get them in our diet.

There are two forms of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are essential to our health.  The are named for where the carbon atoms are missing hydrogen molecules and are known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6 fatty acids are very common in vegetable oils, which means that most people in modern society are getting adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.  However, most diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.  The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is about 1:4 or in other words one part omega-3 to four parts omega-6.  The average American diet is between 1:10 and 1:25, which means we're getting way too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

Deficiencies of omega-3 have been linked to decreased mental abilities, loss of memory, learning disabilities like ADHD, PMS problems, tingling sensations in the nerves, poor vision, the increased tendency to form blood clots, reduced immune activity, high blood pressure, an increase in inflammatory disorders like arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Since the vast majority of North Americans are deficient in omega-3 EFA this provides a clue as to why these health problems are so common.

Omega-3 is found naturally in flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, hempseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, avocados, some dark green leafy vegetables (kale, mustard greens, collard greens, etc.), deep ocean fish (mackerel, sardines, anchovies, albacore tuna, etc.) and wild salmon (but not farm-raised salmon). It can also be obtained through supplements.

Essential fatty acid supplements can be helpful for reducing inflammation and pain in conditions like arthritis and autoimmune disorders. They may also be helpful for protecting the brain and nerves, enhancing memory and cognitive ability.  Omega-3 essential fatty acids also help to prevent cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) and eye diseases (like macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma).  

Here are some supplements to consider.

 

 
 
 



Flax Seed Oil
(caps)
Flax Seed Oil Liquid

Flax seed oil has the optimum balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFAs, making it one of the best EFA supplements.  Just one tablespoon of flax seed oil will provide the minimum requirement of both omega-6 and omega-3 for an adult. Flax seed oil needs to be consumed raw as cooking destroys its EFA. It should also be kept refrigerated as it can go rancid quite rapidly.

Use flax seed oil directly or use it to make salad dressings or spreads.  My favorite way to use it is to soften organic butter from grass-fed cows and blend it with flax seed oil to make flax seed oil butter.  I use a ratio of about one part flax seed oil to two parts butter, but you can add even more flax seed oil if you want a softer spread.


Super Omega-3 EPA

Although Flax Seed Oil has a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, most Americans are already getting a higher amount of omega-6. So, for most people, supplementation with omega-3 is a good idea.

Super Omega-3 EPA is formulated from fish oil to provide the benefits of high omega-3 levels. Super Omega-3 EPA also contains EPA and DHA, the two fatty acids into which Omega-3 is converted. DHA is particularly important for the brain and nervous system and is also available as a separate supplement.


DHA

DHA is a derivative of omega-3 EPA. It is an essential fatty acid that is important for brain function and is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. It is essential for development, growth and maintenance of the brain and the myelin sheath which protects the peripheral nervous system.

It may be helpful for brain function, memory, visual function and neurological conditions. DHA is found in breast milk and has now become a required nutrient in infant formulas. NSP’s DHA formula also contains some EPA, the other fatty acid produced from omega-3.


Krill Oil

Krill are tiny crustaceans that live in the ocean and serve as a food source for whales, penguins and other ocean animals. NSP’s Krill Oil is made from a sustainable antartic krill.  It is high in DHA and EPA omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Krill oil contains phospholipids that aid in the absorption of essential fatty acids.  NSP’s Krill oil also contains fish oil, vitamin K2 and astaxanthin.

An advantage of krill oil is that it avoids much of the pollution that affects modern oceans.  Because of the vitamin K2 it contains it is even more beneficial than Super Omega-3 EPA in supporting cardiovascular health.  K2 also helps the bones and may inhibit the oxidative stress that causes Alzheimer disease.

To learn more about fats, read my article Fat Facts at my other website, ModernHerbalEducation.com.