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ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (EFA)

 

††† The body is typically able to derive its required fats with its ability to convert dietary fat intake from plants and animals into specific forms. The essential fatty acids are a group of necessary fats that cannot be manufactured from other fat forms and can only be attained through diet. However, these fats can be used to synthesize other forms of fatty acids necessary for cell function.

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All fats are classified by three criteria

†† 1)How long they are: this is based on the number of carbon atoms in the fat. Carbon

††††††††††† atoms make up the skeleton of all fats

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††† 2)The number of saturated bonds: Carbon atoms attach to other carbon, hydrogen and ††

††††††††††† oxygen atoms to make up the structure of the different fats. Each carbon atom has††

††††††††††† 4 different sites for attachment by other atoms. For a carbon atom to be

††††††††††† considered saturated all 4 sites must be occupied by a different atom. If all the

††††††††††† carbons in afat molecule are occupied individually, it is considered a saturated

††††††††††† fat i.e. fats found in meats, butter.

††††††††††† Unsaturated describes a carbon atom with two or more of its sites bonded with††

††††††††††† only one other atom. If this occurs with only one carbon atom in the entire fat

††††††††††† structure, it is called monounsaturated i.e. olive oil. If this happens to 2 or more

††††††††††† carbons in a molecule of fat it is considered an polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) i.e.

††††††††††† flax seed oil

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†††† 3) The third classification description specifies families of PUFA. The two classifications regarding EFA are the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. The omega 3 and Omega 6 EFA serve three functions.

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††††††† A)In a minor role, they are utilized for energy production.

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††††††† B)EFA are vitally important to cell membrane integrity and flexibility. Each cell membrane of the body is composed of proteins and fatty acids. Their relative amounts in each cell vary depending on the nature of the cellís tissue i.e. membrane of a nerve cell has more fats than that of muscle tissue. In each cell the fatty acids are specially arranged to carry out the functions of that cell. These ratios are heavily influenced by diet. When the ratio of the different fatty acids becomes skewed, the membrane becomes de-stabilized and the cellular dynamics are compromised. Some symptoms that indicate an EFA imbalance are:

        Dry flaky skin

        Skin lesions

        Fatigue

        Low sperm count

        Malabsorption

        Aching and sore joints

        Pre-menstrual syndrome

        Depression

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†††††† C)The third function of EFA is the production of eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are a group of compounds responsible for regulating pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses.

††††††† There are 3 groups of eicosanoids and they are derived from the two EFA,

alpha linolenic acid (ALA-Omega 3) and linoleic acid ( LA-Omega 6). LA is responsible for the production of group 1 and 2 eicosanoids while ALA promote group 3 production.

††††††† Group 1 and 3 have similar physiological affects:

††††††††††††† -Reduce inflammation

††††††††††††† -Inhibit platelet aggregation

††††††††††††† -Dilate blood vessels which improves blood flow

††††††††† Group 2 has the opposite affect by constricting blood vessels, enhancing inflammation and increasing platelet aggregation. Together with groups 1 and 3, these eicosanoids are very important in the regulation of:

        Blood pressure

        Clotting

        Heart function

        Inflammation

        Nerve function

        Steroid function

        Hormone synthesis

        Intestinal function

        Hydration

        Free radical production

 

†††† Group 1 is derived from LA. LA is found in vegetables and their oils. LA is converted to GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which leads to group 1 production. This conversion process can be interrupted, diminish group 1 production and lead to group 2 synthesis. Factors responsible for this shift are:

  • Diets high in saturated fats, red meat, eggs, dairy and shellfish
  • Trans (hydrogenated) fats i.e. margarine, vegetable oils
  • Smoking
  • Fevers
  • High-carbohydrate, low-protein diet; hyperinsulinemia
  • High stress-elevated cortisol
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Steroids, corticosteroids

 

††† These same factors can also decrease group 3 levels also. When this occurs, conditions for many inflammatory conditions become possible. Dysfunctions involved with elevated group 2 eicosanoids are:

        Asthma and allergies

        Inflammatory bowel disease

        Rheumatoid arthritis

        Cancer metastasis

        Coronary heart disease: Arteriosclerosis, hypertension, thrombosis

        Chronic inflammation

        Diabetes

        Depression, reduced mental acuity

        Alzheimers disease

        Tendonitis

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Caveat: If aspirin is required to feel better, it is a good indicator the bodyís production of eicosanoids is out of proportion and there is too much group 2 in ratio to groups 1 and 3.

 

††† Group 3 eicosanoids are produced from LA found in flaxseed and walnut oils. As this fat gets converted to group 3 compounds, it must first be catalyzed to the fats EPA and DHA. These fats are found in cold water fish i.e. salmon, herring, mackerel etc. In certain situations, i.e. insulin resistance, the ALA can not be converted properly to EPA and DHA. This becomes critical to know when choosing to use supplements. Factors involved with the suppression group 3 synthesis are the same as group 1. Also, lack of omega 3 fat intake contributes to this problem.

 

†† Most research reveals a healthy balance of omega fats in oneís diet should approximate 1:1 and go no higher than 4:1 of omega 6 to omega 3. Unfortunately the American diet has demonstrated a range of minimally 12:1 and as high as 50:1 ratios. This is one of the major reasons for the rapid increases in cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, hormonal dysfunctions, learning disorders and other dysfunctions related to a diet in refined foods.

 

††Necessary diet changes to re-balance these fatty acids begin the elimination of processed foods, refined grains, hydrogenated oils and trans-fats. A decreased intake of dairy, animal meats and saturated fats will diminish group 2 eicosanoid production.Increasing cold water fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout ), nuts, leafy greens and vegetables will increase group 1 and 3 synthesis.

 

††† If you choose to use supplemental forms, ALA and GLA are obtained in black currant seed oil, evening primrose oil and borage oil.

††† LA is found in flax seed oil. As previously stated, if there are any problems with insulin resistance or blood sugar dysregulation, EPA and DHA supplementation may be more beneficial.

 

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