Monday, May 10, 2010

A word on EFA's

"Essential Fatty Acids" sounds like something you almost want to avoid. Truth be told, Fat+Acids=good. And here's why:

All the hype about Fish Oil and Flax Seed Oil is actually for good reason. Though, one day I'll have to get on my soap box to tell you all how I really feel about "hype" and nutrition (i.e. fiber bars & acai berry) ...perhaps we should make that one day very soon because I'm getting all pepped up just thinking about the topic.
So what makes Fish Oil and Flax Seed Oil noteworthy? Now we're getting back to Essential Fatty Acids, which I will call "EFA's" from here. If you have Greek neighbors or know somebody practicing the "Mediterranean Diet", they're already enjoying the benefits of EFA's.

What are EFA's?
Fatty acids are "the basic building blocks of which fats and oils are composed" (1). While chewing on animal fat might not do you any good, some fats are very necessary. I cringe when people tell me they don't eat avocados because they're "fattening". Your body cannot make EFA's- you can only acquire them through your diet. Ever notice that your Greek friend has beautiful skin and hair? She can thank a good supply of EFA's for that! They also reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and prevent arthritis and blood clot formation. EFA's are also "brain food". A deficiency of essential fatty acids can lead to learning disabilities and trouble remembering information.

What's the deal with Omegas?
I see Omega-3 and Omega-6 used pretty regularly on food packages. I have peanut butter in my cabinet right now that says "Excellent Source of Omega-3!! ".
Omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega-6 (linoleic acid) are the two basic categories of EFA's.
Omega-3 can be found in deep water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), fish oil, some vegetable oils (canola), flax seed oil, and walnut oil.
Omega-6 can be found in raw nuts, seeds, legumes, and unsaturated vegetable oils (grape seed oil, primrose oil, sesame oil, and soybean oil)

What's the difference?
Omega-3: eicosapentaenoic acid, called EPA and docosahexaenoic or DHA
EPA and DHA are two types of Omega-3's that the body needs. They are the "building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, and cell growth as well as components of cell membranes" (2). EPA and DHA are both found in fish.
For vegetarians, alpha-linolenic acid or "ALA" can be ingested through walnuts or flax seed oil, which them must be converted in the body to a usable form of EPA and DHA.  In modern diets, Omega-3's are more difficult to obtain than Omega-6's.
Omega-6's can be found everywhere! Soy Oil alone keeps most Americans stocked up on Omega-6. Since soy is used in nearly every processed food (cookies, crackers, sweets, fast foods, etc...), Americans are more than likely overwhelmed with this EFA. Omega-6 and Omega-3 act as opposites when it comes to hormone function. Dr. Weil says, "Those from omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation (an important component of the immune response), blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while those from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. Both families of hormones must be in balance to maintain optimum health" (2).
And lastly,  I can't forget about my favorite Omega-6: GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). Borage, Black Currant, and Evening Primrose Oils are the best sources for GLA. It is known to prevent hardening of the arteries, heart disease, PMS, high blood pressure, and MS. I started taking Primrose Oil when I was a teenager and it worked wonders for PMS related issues. It's also a great inflammation reducer. Read more about it here.


So are you wondering if you may have an Omega-3 Deficiency? Here's a very small list of problems linked to a deficiency of Omega-3 Fatty Acids (3):
Acne, allergies, Alzheimer's, arthritis, ADD, autoimmune diseases, depression, diabetes, dry skin and hair,  Eczema, high blood pressure, learning problems, menopausal symptoms, MS, psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and stroke.

And the list could go on and on.

Visit here for more information on what EFA's can do for you.


One day soon, I'm going to talk about the importance of EFA's and Prostaglandins...



Resources:
1: "Prescription for Nutritional Healing" by Phyllis Balch, CNC
2:  Dr. Andrew Weil, "Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6?"
3: "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods" by Michael Murray, ND

Hope this information was helpful to you!

In Good Health,
                                                                           Lauren

3 comments:

  1. I do love me some Omegas of all sorts.

    In fact, I wish I were noshing on some this very moment...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post! I shoot for a good omega 3 to 6 ratio, but it is an area of my diet that could use some more focus. I need to try walnut oil. I hear it is great on salads.

    ReplyDelete
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