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Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
Omega-3 and Omega-6
"There are two essential fatty acids - commonly referred to as Omega-3…and Omega-6…- that are indeed essential for life because they are vitally involved in the proper functioning of every cell, tissue and organ in the human body. The Omega-6 EFAs are distributed evenly in most tissues, but Omega-3 EFAs are concentrated in a few tissues including the brain. More specifically, a substance termed …(DHA), converted from Omega-3 EFAs, is the most abundant Omega-3 EFA in the brain. The brain has the greater percentage of fat than any other organ in the body - 20% of the dry weight of the brain makes up EFA. We are, in fact, all 'fat heads'! (Stordy, 2000:83)."
EFAs and Vitamins
"Like vitamins, EFAs are essential to health. Older literature, in fact, refers to them as vitamin F. Vitamins and EFAs are essential because:
· We must have them to live and to be healthy.
· Our bodies cannot make them from other substances.
· We must obtain an adequate supply from external sources—from food or from supplements.
· Deficiency results in gradual deterioration of cells and tissues, and ultimately, in death.
· Increasing the intake to adequate levels reverses the signs brought about by deficiency."
EFAs are Macronutrients
"While EFAs are like vitamins in their essentiality, they differ in other respects. Vitamins are required in small amounts (mg/day). EFAs are macronutrients, necessary in grams/day."
"Of approximately fifty known essential nutrients, LA has the highest daily requirement. The amount needed varies with
· levels of activity and stress,
· nutritional state, and
· individual differences."
· "One to two percent of calories (1 tsp., 3 to 6 grams/day) prevent signs of deficiency in most healthy adults.
· Obese people and those eating hard fats, sugar, and trans-fatty acids require more.
Nutrients essential for LA functions include
· zinc, and
· vitamins A, carotene, B3, B6, C and E."
· "An adult carries about 10- kilograms of body fat. About 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.) is LA.
· Vegetarians’ bodies carry up to 25 percent of their body fat as LA.
· People with degenerative disease average only about 8 percent of their body fat as LA."
"Alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) optimums range between 2 and 9 grams (1 or 2 tsp.) per day, averaging 2 percent of daily calories."
"Body content in healthy people is around 2 percent of fat, or 200 grams (half a pound) of LNA."
"LNA requires the same antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins necessary for LA functions."
Note: There may be some confusion in the following excerpts. Some ratios described as omega-3 to omega-6 may actually be omega-6 to omega-3, and vice versa. More accurate information about requirements can be found in theEFA Requirements section.
"Omega 3 to omega 6 ratios in healthy populations range from 1:2.5 (Inuit diets) to 6:1 (other traditional diets). Since 1850, omega 3 consumption has decreased to one-sixth its traditional level, resulting in an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 20:1 (contemporary polyunsaturated oil diets), associated with degenerative conditions."
"It has not yet been determined how much EFAs we should ingest every day. However, it seems that in the past, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the human diet was about 1:1."
"If a person has cancer, inflammatory conditions, or needs to lose weight, omega 3 should be favored. Otherwise, an omega 6 to omega 3 [should probably say 3 to 6, not 6 to 3] ratio between 1:2 and 1:3 is suitable."
Conversion of Omega-6s
"LA and its derivatives belong to the omega 6 family of polyunsaturates. In addition to linoleic acid (LA), this family includes
· gamma-linoleic acid (GLA),
· dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), and
· arachidonic acid (AA).
If LA is provided by foods, our cells make GLA, DGLA, and AA."
Conversion of Omega-3s
"LNA and its derivatives belong to an omega 3 family of superunstaurates. Besides alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), this family includes
· stearidonic acid (SDA),
· eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and
· docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
If LNA is provided by foods, our cells make SDA, EPA and DHA."
Inhibition of EFA Conversion
· "Bad fats (margarines, shortenings, trans-fatty acids, hard fats, sugar and cholesterol),
· lack of minerals (magnesium, selenium, zinc) and
· [lack of ] vitamins (B3, B6, C, E),
· aging, and
· rare genetic mutations
can all inhibit omega 6 [and omega 3] conversion."
Inhibition of Omega-6 Conversion
"[if omeaga-6 conversion is inhibited] an oil containing omega 6 derivatives can help.
GLA is present in
· evening primrose,
· borage, and
· black currant seed.
DGLA is found in
· mother’s milk.
AA is found in
· eggs, and
· dairy products."
Inhibition of Omega-3 Conversion
"When the conversion of EFAs to their derivatives is inhibited by the factors listed above,
· black currant seed oil, or
EPA and DHA from
· fish oils and
· northern ocean algae
can be given."
"As structural components of membranes, EFAs help form a barrier that keeps
· foreign molecules,
· fungi, and
outside of cells, and keeps the cell’s
· genetic material, and
· organelles (small organs)
inside. They also help regulate the traffic of substances in and out of our cells via protein channels, pumps, and other mechanisms.
They perform similar functions in membranes that surround organelles within our cells. EFAs fulfill many functions:
· Regulate oxygen use, electron transport, and energy production—our cells’ most important moment-to-moment processes.
· Help form red blood pigment (hemoglobin) from simpler substances.
· Keep juice-producing (exocrine) and hormone-producing (endocrine) glands active.
· Help make joint lubricants.
· Are precursors of prostaglandins (PGs), three families of short lived, hormone-like substances that regulate
A delicate balance between PGs with opposing functions, in part determined by omega 6 and omega 3 intake, determines the health of our cardiovascular system.
· Help transport cholesterol.
· Help generate electrical currents that make our heart beat in orderly sequence.
· Are precursors of derivatives like DHA [a derivative of omega-3], which are needed by the most active tissues—
· Help our immune system fight infections by enhancing peroxide production.
· Help prevent the development of allergies.
EFAs play a role in every life process in our body. Life without them is impossible. When foods are EFA-poor, expect a diversity of health problems."
"This definition of essentiality reflects the fact that essential nutrients perform key functions in our cells and tissues that the body cannot live without. EFAs play their essential roles by:
· Helping to form the membrane barrier that surrounds our cells and intracellular factories (organelles).
· Determining fluidity and chemical reactivity of membranes.
· Increasing oxidation rate, metabolic rate,and energy levels.
· Serving as starting material for hormone-like regulating molecules (prostaglandins) that govern cell activities on a moment-to-moment basis."
"The value of LA [the omega 6 EFA, linoleic acid] and LNA [the omega 3 EFA, alpha-linolenic acid] to health results from their chemical properties. EFAs react with oxygen (EFA-rich oils—flax, hemp, safflower—were traditionally used in paints because they oxidize [oxidation creates acidic waste products, butoxidation also provides energy that is necessary for us to live], dry and harden quickly when exposed to air). When fresh, these oils are valuable human foods. EFAs absorb sunlight, increasing their ability to react with oxygen by about 1000-fold and making them very active chemically.
EFA molecules carry slight negative charges that cause them to repel one another. They spread out in all directions. This property enables EFAs to carry oil-soluble toxins from deep within the body to the skin surface for eliminations [detoxification]. EFAs form associations with sulfhydryl group (cysteine) in proteins, important in reactions that make possible the one-way movement of electrons and energy on which life depends. EFAs store electric charges that produce bio-electric currents important for
· muscle, and
· cell membrane functions, and
· the transmission of messages."
"But just how to mend that situation remains controversial. Omega-3's might worsen some chronic illnesses. (Check with a doctor if you have such a condition before starting to take supplements.) The Food and Drug Administration is now considering what quantity of omega-3's to recommend; currently it has no recommendation but classifies three grams per day as 'safe.'"
"'Unfortunately in our country eating too much fresh fish is potentially dangerous because of possible mercury and pesticide levels,' he explains. 'Farm-raised fish is perhaps safer, but depending on what they are fed, the fish may not have the needed quantity of omega-3's.'"
"Hibbeln cautions that people should not take cod liver oil in the quantity necessary to get three grams per day of omega-3's because that much cod liver oil would contain dangerous levels of vitamin A."
"You can buy capsules of fish oils in drug stores and health-food stores, but I advise you not to use them. It is not clear that they reproduce the benefits of whole fish, and they may contain certain toxic contaminants. (Page 52)"
Book: Weil, Andrew, M.D. 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Alfred A. Knoph, Inc., 1997.
"But concerns have also been raised about the levels of contamination in fish oil supplements. Regulators do not currently test the purity of supplements."
Avoid Trans Fatty Acids
Too Much Omega-6
"These days, the modern diet contains far more omega-6, from oils used in the preparation of foods as well as green, leafy vegetables and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has been calculated to be as high as 20:1."
Low Fat Diets
"To avoid the killer fats that we hear so much about, many people have turned to low fat diets, decreasing their intake of the healing fats required for life.
Low fat diets, useful for atherosclerosis [a common arterial disease], can kill you over the long term. Children are especially vulnerable to damage from low fat diets. To balance the one-sided view on fats, we must talk about essential fatty acids (EFAs)."
"Apart from these essential fatty acids, other substances are classified as essential, which the human body is unable to synthesise, and which must be absorbed by way of food. They include certain amino acids, inorganic elements and vitamins."
· "Healing fats, those containing unspoiled EFAs, are vital to health.
· Both EFAs must be obtained from foods in an appropriate ratio.
· Hard, hydrogenated, and overheated (killer) fats interfere with vital EFA functions.
To unfold their health benefits,
· EFAs must be fresh, protected from destruction by light, oxygen, and heat, and
· accompanied by the minerals and vitamins required for their metabolism in the body.
· Overheating, refining, and hydrogenation destroys EFAs and their value to human health.
· An adequate supply of healing fats is even more important to health than the avoidance of killer fats."