A Letter from Janice from Palm Desert
Q: “I want to use essential fatty acids, but where do I start?”
A: First, I think it is important to understand what essential fatty acids are.
Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the diet. Essential fats are used by the body to make other substances that control or regulate growth, maintenance and proper function of many physiological processes. Some of the processes essential fatty acids (or EFA’s) help include modulating inflammation, fever, regulating immune responses, and overall cardiovascular health. These manufactured substances are called eicosanoids. These substances are better known as prostaglandins, leukotineines, cytokines and others that regulate inflammatory or anti-inflammatory actions in the body. Eicosanoids are local-acting hormones. The body makes eicosanoids from fats which include essential fatty acids. The essential fatty acids are called linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Linolenic acids are omega 3 fatty acids while linoleic fatty acids are called omega 6 fatty acids. These are polyunsaturated fats (meaning they are not fully saturated with hydrogen’s, which is one of the chemicals that make up fats). Omega 3 fatty acids and some omega 6 fats seem to have the most prolific effect on reducing the manufacturing of inflammatory substances. Omega 3 fatty acids are also involved in cardiovascular benefits such as reduction in blood triglycerides and blood pressure thus, making omega 3 fats often sought out. The American diet is typically abundant in omega 6 fatty acids, about 10 grams of fats a day, while the diet is typically low and often devoid of omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid food sources have become popular ‘super’ foods today. Omega 6 oils are found in nuts, soy, corn, sunflower, walnuts, peanuts, canola and safflower. Most salad dressings are rich in these omega 6 oils. Foods that are abundant in omega 3 fats include (in ascending order), olive oil, walnut oil, pumpkin, soy oil, canola oil, hemp and flaxseed oil (the highest). Certain fish are abundant in omega 3 fats and are converted into a more active form called EPA and DHA. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish a week including salmon, cod and mackerel bringing in the higher amounts of omega 3’s. The intake for omega 3 fats is considered to be adequate at about 2 grams a day for men and 1 gram a day for women. Many authorities suggest approximately 5 grams a day of omega 3 for health benefits. The use of foods is the primary recommendation while supplementation is helpful to achieve our needs. Supplementation should include rich sources of omega 3 fatty acids, GLA a specific omega 6 fats from borage, evening primrose oil or black current oil would be beneficial as well. A combination of fish and flax are good supplements in my opinion.
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- Whitney, Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, Wadsworth 20 Davis Dr. Belmont, CA 2014. pg 150-9
- Sardesai, Introduction to Clinical Nutrition , Marcel Dekker Inc. New York, NY. 1998. PG 46-59.
- Jones, Textbook of Functional Medicine, Institute for Functional Medicine, Gig Harbor, WA. 2010. Pg. 477-52.