Essential fatty acids, often abbreviated as EFAs, are like the threads stitching together the fabric of life. They are the fundamental components of a balanced diet that play a critical role in maintaining overall health and well-being. These are types of fats that the human body cannot synthesize on its own, necessitating their intake through dietary sources. EFAs are integral to various bodily functions, including cell membrane structure, brain health, and hormone production.
The two main categories of essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, found predominantly in fatty fish such as salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties and their positive effects on cardiovascular health. They are linked to reduced risk of heart disease, improved cognitive function, and even mood regulation.
On the other hand, omega-6 fatty acids are abundant in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. While they also contribute to overall health, it's important to maintain a proper balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. An excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3s could potentially promote inflammation and various health issues.
Modern diets often contain imbalanced ratios due to the prevalence of processed foods and certain cooking oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. Hence, finding the right equilibrium between these two types of essential fatty acids is essential for optimizing health.
Benefits of Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) offer a plethora of benefits that are crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. Here are five key advantages of incorporating sufficient EFAs into your diet:
- Heart Health: Omega-3 fatty acids, a subset of EFAs, play a vital role in supporting cardiovascular health. They help reduce triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and promote the dilation of blood vessels, enhancing blood flow. This can contribute to a lower risk of heart disease , stroke, and other cardiovascular complications.
- Brain Function: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are integral to brain health. They aid in the development and maintenance of brain cells, neural connections and increase more grey matter. Studies show that is associated with more grey matter in the brain . Consuming adequate omega-3s has been linked to improved cognitive function , memory, and even a reduced risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease.
- Inflammation Regulation: Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are involved in inflammation processes. Omega-3s exhibit anti-inflammatory properties that can help mitigate chronic inflammation . This is crucial for managing inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and promoting overall immune system balance.
- Joint health: Essential fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, play a crucial role in supporting joint health and mitigating the discomfort associated with conditions like arthritis. Essential fats help form specialized molecules called resolvins and protectins, which actively resolve inflammation and support the healing processes within joints. This not only provides relief from discomfort but also aids in maintaining the structural integrity of joints. A12-month, double-blind, controlled study found that with 2.6 grams of omega –3 results in significant benefit and may reduce the need for anti-rheumatic medications.
- Skin Health: Essential fatty acids contribute to the maintenance of healthy skin by supporting its barrier function, retaining moisture, and reducing dryness. Omega-3s, in particular, have been linked to the alleviation of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, owing to their anti-inflammatory effects.
- Hormone Production: EFAs are essential for the synthesis and regulation of hormones. They serve as building blocks for hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which play a role in numerous physiological processes, including blood clotting, immune response, and the contraction of smooth muscles.
- Vision Support: Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are essential for maintaining optimal eye health and vision. They are concentrated in the retina and help support visual development, prevent dry eyes, and reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are instrumental in supporting and maintaining healthy vision. Age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in older adults, involves the deterioration of the macula—the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, detailed vision. Omega-3s are believed to provide protective effects against AMD by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which contribute to the progression of the disease.
What are the signs & symptoms of essential fatty acids?
Essential fatty acid deficiency can lead to a range of symptoms due to the crucial roles these fats play in various bodily functions. Some common symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency include:
- Dry, Flaky Skin: EFAs contribute to the formation of healthy skin cells and the maintenance of skin barrier function. Deficiency can lead to dry, rough, and flaky skin.
- Dull Hair and Brittle Nails: Essential fatty acids are essential for maintaining the health and appearance of hair and nails. Deficiency can result in lackluster hair and brittle, weak nails.
- Inflammatory Skin Conditions: EFAs, especially omega-3 fatty acids, have anti-inflammatory properties that help alleviate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Their deficiency may exacerbate these conditions.
- Poor Wound Healing: EFAs are important for wound healing and tissue repair. A deficiency can slow down the healing process and increase susceptibility to infections.
- Cognitive Issues: Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for brain health and cognitive function. Deficiency may lead to difficulties in concentration, memory problems, and mood imbalances.
- Vision Problems: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are vital for maintaining proper vision and eye health. Deficiency can contribute to vision problems and dry eyes.
- Fatigue and Weakness: Essential fatty acids play a role in energy production and muscle function. Deficiency might result in fatigue, weakness, and reduced exercise performance.
- Impaired Immune Function: EFAs are linked to immune system regulation. Deficiency can weaken the immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
- Cardiovascular Issues: Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their cardiovascular benefits, including lowering triglycerides and reducing the risk of heart disease. Deficiency may contribute to higher cardiovascular risk.
- Mood Disturbances: Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with mood regulation and reducing the risk of depression. Deficiency might contribute to mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
It's important to note that while essential fatty acid deficiency is rare in well-balanced diets, certain medical conditions or restricted diets (e.g., very low-fat diets) can increase the risk. If you suspect a deficiency, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended for proper diagnosis and guidance on appropriate dietary adjustments or supplementation.
If you are considering omega-3 supplements, here are our top recommendations:
EFA Essentials by Pure Encapsulations: EFA essentials offers essential fats in a fish oil concentrate derived from anchovies and sardines which provides 570mg of eicosapentaenoic acid, 430 mg of docosahexaenoic acid and 130 mg of other omega-3 fats along with 300 mg of borage oil. The supplement is gluten free, GMO free, soy free and dairy free. Pure Encapsulations presents essential fats in a combination of cold-pressed borage seed oil and triglyceride form fish oil. The supplement comes in a convenient softgel capsule for easy dispensing.
EFA Complex by Progressive Laboratories: Progressive Laboratories EFA Complex is a combination of borage oil, evening primrose oil, organic flaxseed oil and marine lipid concentrate along with vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol. One softgel capsule is 200 mg of lipid concentrate, 200 mg organic flaxseed oil, 200 mg evening primrose oil, 200 mg of borage oil and 3 mg of vitamin E. The marine lipid concentrate is derived from anchovies, sardines, mackerel, salmon, sprat, and clupea fish. The recommended dosage is to take one softgel capsule once or twice per day.
Perilla EPA by Genestra Brands: Genestra Perilla oil is derived from perilla, an herb from the mint family that is a source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA and the omega-6 fatty acid LA (linoleic acid). A serving size of 3 capsules provides 3000 mg of perilla (perilla frutescens) seed oil, 1650 mg of yielding ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and 450 mg of LA (linoleic acid) and 390 mg of OA (oleic acid). The recommended dosage is three capsules per day.
Considering omega-3 supplements in your diet, is a good approach to bringing balance to the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. For most people taking a conscientious dietary approach to improve dietary omega-3 intake is a difficult task. Given the hectic schedule and the intake of processed foods it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about incorporating omega-3 rich dietary supplements. By considering high-quality omega 3 supplements we can nurture the body and boost its ability to perform intricate tasks such as hormonal balance. Ensuring adequate intake of essential fatty acids and to promote a harmonious relationship between inflammation and overall health.