Beginner's Guide to Essential Fatty Acids
Just what are EFA’s and how do they help you?
Omega 3’s, Omega 6’s , you can get them from fish, and you can get them from nuts and berries; but just why are these fat’s so good for us, what’s acid got to do with it and what is the best way to get them in our diets. Thinking back to when we were hunter gatherers it makes sense that our essential nutrients came from these natural food sources.
These fatty acids are nutrients what we need to survive and thrive on, but we can’t synthesize them in our body, so we have to outsource them, when found in the 1920 they were thought to be vitamins and labelled Vitamin F, but were later recatergorised as fats. Just in case you ever wondered why we jump over Vitamin F to K.... which also means there’s a story behind Vitamin’s G and H, which I’ll find out one day!
They’re ‘fatty’ but not the fuel creating fats, they’re good fat, known as ‘unsaturated fats’, they’re required for the proper structure and function of every cell in the body, and are important for optimal health. They increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals; nourish the skin, hair and nails; promote proper nerve functioning; help produce hormones; ensure normal growth and development; and prevent and treat disease.
Remember when your parents used to take Cod Liver Oil? My dad took it straight off the spoon – Yuck!
This is what they were taking – the EFA’s. Nowadays we know them as Omega’s 3 &6, and their real names are long, and quite unpronounceable but you’ll see anacronyms like ‘EPA’ ‘ALA’ ‘DHA’ - these are the Omega 3’s – the really good ones.
The main one’s to look out for are firstly the 2 essentials :
LA – Linoleic acid – Omega 6 - mainly from vegetable oils, but not too much needed; as excess can cause inflammation. You’ll have an Omega 6 rich diet if you eat poultry and eggs, and wheat germ.
ALA – Alpha Linoleic Acid – Omega 3 - Found in flax and chia seeds, some nuts, green leafy veg and wheat germ.
Then for when your body is under stress:
GLA – Omega 6 - Evening Primrose & Starflower - These 2 you really can’t get from your diet so good to add the supplement in. Also these 2 used a lot in Women’s Health supplements, eases PMS, Breast pain, and is said to aid menopausal symptoms such as reduce brain fog (I’ve started taking it in force!)
EPA / DHA – Omega 3 - fatty fish oils like salmon, mackerel, tuna and the classic cod liver oil. Great for skin conditions, and all neural and brain functions; basically this is the one to take to avoid dementia, heart disease, joint pains and other similar conditions. Also great for your dogs, I give Leela some Sprats every day after her morning walk so she gets her Omega 3’s and 6’s; and her coat has become so glossy!
WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR?
You name it and they have a hand in it, as they’re an acid they’re at the start of the chain reactions in most functions within the body, shown to reduce heart disease. As a powerful anti-inflammatory, relieve arthritis and joint conditions, as well as keeps your immune system in check. Eczema, skin disorders, mental health issues, potentially Diabetes, asthma, allergies, hypertension, all can be alleviated if we have the right amount of EFA’s in our system. Menopausal women tend to lack in EFA’s too, maybe contributing to the brain fog, joint pains, breast pain and could be the root cause of so many other symptoms.
Our diets are relatively rich in Omega 6’s EFA’s as we can get this from eggs, plant based oils, poultry and grains; in fact we can get too much of the Linoleic acids except the GLA (evening primrose, starflower); that we have to take as a supplement.
The Omega 3’s are more from the cold water fish and we consume less so this is the group that you should be supplementing more in. With new research coming out all the time showing that cultures rich in 3’s diet have less dementia, depression, ADHD and bipolar disorders this really maybe evidence that we’re in a culture that is suffering from Omega 3 deficiency.
If you start to take these in earnest then they can upset your stomach and your bowels at first, so consume in smaller doses and take with food until your system becomes used to the additional dose.
It’s a balancing act between your 6’s and 3’s, but we generally need more of an Omega 3, for example swop your sunflower oil (6) to rapeseed oil (3)!
If you don’t eat the good fish at least twice a week (Herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna) look to taking a Omega 3 supplement. On average in Europe we have 20-40mg a day of Omega 3’s when the recommended daily dose is 100-130mg – so we’re getting less than 30% of what we need. I’m off out to buy mine now!
THE END BIT
If you take one thing away from this article – it’s to take a supplement of Omega 3 fish oils to live long and healthy, and for women to add in Evening Primrose and Starflower for PMS and Menopause.
This article has been collated from 10 different sources so get the facts distilled down, and it’s really made me appreciate why I should now be taking Omega 3’s; I’m sure they’re not as bad as the cod liver oil capsules I was given as a kid.... are they?!