Fatty Acids - By now most of us have been conditioned to associate the work "fat" with something negative, harmful to our health and to be avoided at all costs. However, not all fats are alike.
It's true that the common "saturated" fat in red meat, dairy and many processed foods can contribute to obesity, clogged arteries and a slew of health problems. However, there are certain fats that are not only good, they are essential for our health, called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA).
Different Types of Fat
There are three types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Each is a mixture of different fatty acids, and each plays an important role in the body after it is ingested.
The specific amount of each fatty acid and its respective molecular structure determine whether the fat is a solid or a liquid.
Saturated fats like butter, animal fat and hydrogenated oils are solid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil remain liquid at room temperature, but not when refrigerated. Because our bodies can manufacture both saturated and monounsaturated fats, they are called nonessential.
Polyunsaturated fats are a different story. They are also liquid, both at room temperature and when refrigerated. The human body cannot manufacture polyunsaturated fats, therefore they must be supplied by diet, hence the name - Essential Fatty Acids.
It is important to know that EFA's contribute to good health and are not to be confused with harmful saturated fats.
The Role of EFAs in Your Health
EFAs are found in certain plants, seeds, oils and cold-water fish oils. Studies have shown that consuming a diet rich in fish helps lower triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL, bad cholesterol) while raising high-density lipoproteins (HDL, good cholesterol). Therefore, EFA's protect against heart disease.
EFAs also help regulate cellular oxygen use, energy production, and formation of hemoglobin, blood pressure, and immune function. Furthermore, EFAs can be beneficial for people who suffer from auto-immune diseases, skin problems and a number of other dangerous health conditions including cancer.
Introducing…the EFA Family
Only two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered essential: Omega-6 or linoleic acid (LA) and Omega-3 or alpha-linolenic acid (LNA).
They can be converted into other important fatty acids. For example, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA) are both made from linoleic acid, while eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are derived from alpha-linolenic acid.
However, many people have decreased activity of enzymes necessary for production of GLA, EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are derived from alpha-linolenic acid.
EFAs are components of cell membranes, especially in the brain and central nervous system. Their main function is to serve as precursors to hormone-like substances called prostaglandin and related compounds (thromboxanes and prostacyclins) that help regulate the function of the central nervous system, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids generally promote the production of prostaglandin that are anti-inflammatory in nature. They keep platelets from sticking together, open up blood vessels and slow down cholesterol production. They may also help prevent cancer cell growth by regulating the rate of cell division.
Numerous health conditions (over 60) have been shown to benefit from EFAs including heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases, skin problems, arthritis, PMS, fibrocystic breast disease, allergies, depression, prostate enlargement, irritable bowel syndrome among many others.
EFA Supplementation in Diets
Unfortunately, experts estimate that about 80% of people don't consume enough EFAs, which puts them at risk for various diseases. Even people who eat fish regularly are often deficient. The only solution is supplementation.
Ideally, a supplement should provide both the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and include GLA, EPA and DHA. This is accomplished by combining fish oil and borage oil.
Most people over 30 should take EFAs daily as added protection against a whole host of dangerous diseases.