Essential Fatty Acids

The Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are a type of fat that our body can not synthesize by its self  and must be obtained via diet or supplementation. Essential fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that has all its doble bonds in cis configuration.

The only two fatty acids that are essential for the human being are α-linolenic acid (Omega 3) and linoleic acid (Omega-6). If these are supplied, the human body can synthesise the rest of the fatty acids that it needs.

Essential fatty acids carry out functions that are very important to the human body. Elements such as neurotransmitters, cells, good cholesterol and antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and vasodilator substances are synthesised from these fatty acids.

Table of contents

What are essential fatty acids?

Certain elements (proteins, carbohydrates) can be synthesised by our own bodies and this is also the case with mono-unsaturated and saturated fatty acids. But essential fatty acids (which are polyunsaturated) must be provided through food.

Our body has the ability to make double bond carbon structures from carbon 9, as well as Omega-9. However, the enzymes necessary to create the double bonds in amino acid carbons in carbon 9 and Omega 3 and 6 are not produced by the body itself.

Omega-6 fatty acids

Gamma linoleic acid (GLA), dihomo-gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA) make up the group of Omega-6 amino acids.

Sources Omega-6 acids

We find them in several green leafy vegetables, in oils from vegetables such as corn, soybean, or sunflower, and some nuts and seeds. Within the Omega-6 series, the most important is gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) (found mostly in borage oil).

Omega-3 fatty acid

The Omega-3 family consists of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) as well as eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids. ALA is a precursor of fatty acids that have longer chains, such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), alpha-linolenic acid and linolenic acid.

EPA and DHA are also very important essential acids for our health. The only foods that contain sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA are of animal origin, especially oily fish.

Sources of Omega-3 acids

ALA is found in flax oil, sesame, wheat germ, flax in nuts, chia, soybean, canola, evening primrose, quinoa and so on. EPA and DHA are mostly found in oily fish (krill, tuna, sardine, mackerel, etc).

Essential fatty acid functions

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the brain and nervous system in large quantities. They are essential for the proper functioning of the vision and the brain. They prevent mental disorders such as insomnia, stress and anxiety. Omega-3s also help to reduce levels of bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol levels. They also have antiarrhythmic, antithrombotic and anti-inflammatory properties which are very important in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Omega-6 fatty acids also act as cardiovascular protectors and possess anti-inflammatory actions. However, these fatty acids can produce inflammatory substances when taken in excess.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids balance

Omega-3 is the essential fatty acids family which provides health benefits for the whole body. However, our habitual diets tend to be rich in Omega 6 and low in Omega 3 fatty acids.

It is very important that there is a balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. To understand this well, these fatty acids are actually "competing", which means that a surplus of one of them will inhibit the synthesis of the other.

That is exactly what happens with diets that are high in Omega-6 and low in Omega 3. Today the typical Omega-3 /Omega 6 ratio in most people's diets is thought to be approximately 1:25.

This is important enough to bear in mind if we want our bodies to benefit from the special properties of Omega 3 and Omega 6. A healthy ratio should really be between 1:5 and 1:1.

This imbalance can affect health and can manifest itself as the onset of pain and inflammation for example, since Omega-3's anti-inflammatory capabilities would thereby be blocked. It can also manifest itself in the formation of clots. In a balanced diet the ingestion of omega-3 would prevent this problem.

It is important to know our bodies’ needs and to know exactly what we should provide it with. If we are already consuming sufficient quantities of omega 6 in our diets, then we will only need to look for a good omega 3 supplement, rather than taking both of them together.

It is essential to know the needs of our body and to know exactly what we need to provide it with. Taking an omega-3 and omega-6 supplement won't be helpful if our diet is already rich in omega-6. Only in this case should we add an omega 3 supplement.

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