Thursday, June 7, 2012

Omega-3 and Other Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)

Omega-3 and Other Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)
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What are Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids come from fish and plant oils and these are the good fats your body needs for survival. They are the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats referred to as the Omega fatty acids: Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9.

The human body does not manufacture Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and therefore these must be obtained from the foods we eat.

Omega-9 can be created in the human body from unsaturated fat such as olive oil. Some Omega-9s are common components of animal and vegetable oil.

Omega-3 is probably the best known of the essential fatty acids. However, we need all three omega fatty acids in combination to obtain balanced optimal levels of each for our good health.


The omega-3s are comprised of three polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA): alpha-linolenic acid ALA, eicosapentaenic acid EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid DHA. The EPA and DHA are found mainly in oily cold water fish. The ALA comes from plants and nuts such as flax (flaxseed oil), walnuts, and soybeans. The body converts the ALA to EPA and DHA which is more readily used by the body.

Research has shown that the omega-3 fatty acids are effective in reducing inflammation and helping to prevent the risk factors associated with such chronic diseases as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain (60% of your brain is fat with DHA the most abundant fat) and are important for brain memory and performance.

Pregnant women who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids put their infants at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urges women of childbearing age to consume more fish. The FDA further stipulates, despite warnings from environmental activists, that the fish found in supermarkets and in restaurants are safe to eat and that the health benefits far outweigh any potential risks. We have all heard about the mercury in the fish being bad for your health. According to a recent Washington Times article (Dec. 30, 2008), people in Japan eat eight times the fish consumed by the people in the United States (U.S.). The Japanese do have higher blood-mercury levels but they live longer and have lower rates of strokes, heart disease, and infant mortality.

In a article of the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jan. 14, 2009), researchers, led by Dr. Maria Makrides, deputy director of Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute of Human Nutrition, University of Adelaide, Australia, found that a diet high in DHA boosted the brain function of female preterm babies improving their scores on a mental development test by five points and also led to an 80% reduction in the number of baby girls with significant mental delays. The same benefits were not seen in infant males.

Clinical studies of heart attack survivors found that daily omega-3 supplements dramatically reduce the risk of death, heart attacks, and stroke. The EPA and DHA help prevent and treat atherosclerosis by inhibiting the development of plaque and blood clots which cause arteries to clog. They are natural blood thinners. Thus, omega-3 fatty acid supplements can be a replacement for anticoagulant drugs including aspirin, and clopidogrel (Plavix), without any known side effects. However, it is best to use a whole EFA supplement that includes a balanced formula of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9.

A product such as Vita Logic EFA Formula or Vita Logic Fish Oil (Omega-3 EPA/DHA), can be taken by ingesting two capsules daily (approximately 1 gram of omega-3 fish oils) along with the Plavix, for example, for one whole month. After one month, the Plavix can be dropped. Keep taking the EFA or Fish Oil instead. Vitamin E is usually a part of the supplement in order to protect the fatty acids from oxidation. However, for other more potent anticoagulants, you may have to wean yourself off the pharmaceutical under a doctor’s supervision and monotoring. Always check with your health care provider for guidance.


Omega-6 fatty acids are consumed in the diet from vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oil) as linoleic acid LA (not to be confused with alpha-linoleic acid ALA which is an omega-3 fatty acid). North American diets tend to be too high in omega-6, especially in relation to omega-3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio is deemed to be 1:1-to-1:4. That is, one omega-3 to one omega-6 up to one omega-3 to four omega-6. The typical American diet tends to contain 20 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids which can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and depression. Why is this happening?

Being that the essential fatty acids are fragile in their unstable nature, they are easly oxidized causing them to go rancid in a short amount of time. The food industry, therefore, in their infinite wisdom, came up with artificially hydrogenating vegetable oils (adding hydrogen to the molecule of an unsaturated organic compound) to create the infamous trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids in turn decrease the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body by inhibiting their formation. The hydrogenated oils never break down. The body therefore cannot use or absorb them. This may cause inflammation which may lead to all kinds of maladies.

In the Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, a healthier and better balance exists between the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, leading to better health.

The linoleic acid (LA) is converted to gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) in the body and is broken down further into arachidonic acid (AA). AA can also be consumed directly from animal meats and egg yolks. GLA is taken from several plant based oils from palm, soybean, rapeseed (canola), and sunflower seed.

GLA, studies suggest, helps to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, inhibits tumor growth and reduces skin itching and chronic dryness. Helps to reduce rheumatoid arthritis aches and pains. Reduces the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, and clears up acne and rosacea. GLA can also be found in more rare oils including black currant, borage, evening primrose, and hemp oils.

Conjugated linoleic acid CLA, has been shown in some studies to be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and increasing HDL cholesterol (the good one). CLA increases sensitivity to insulin which may provide long-term blood sugar control. Prevents and kills cancer cells. A good source is safflower oil.


Omega-9 fatty acid is a monounsaturated fat also known as oleic acid. When the body does not have enough omega-3 or omega-6, it compensates by producing omega-9 fatty acids to take their place. Because the body can produce omega-9 fatty acids it is not considered an essential fatty acid. Oleic acid is the main component of olive oil. The oil made by our skin glands is the same omega-9 fatty acid found in olive oil.

Omega-9 lowers cholesterol levels and is an anti-inflammatory. Other sources of omega-9 fatty acids include avocados, nuts, and seeds.

In Conclusion

The essential fatty acids are an important part of our diet. Almost all the polyunsatured fat in the human diet come from EFA. Some of the food sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are fish and shellfish, flaxseed (linseed), hemp oil, soy oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, and walnuts.

As far as supplementation goes, it is better to take the entire spectrum of the EFA to get the full benefit of the omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. Two great sources of the essential fatty acids include: EFA Formula, by Vita Logic, and The TOTAL EFA, by Health from the Sun. Both supplements contain fish oils derived from fresh cold water sources, tested for purity and contaminants and contain no mercury, pesticides, or dioxins.

As with all drugs and supplements, consult a competent health care professional before use.