EFAs, or Essential Fatty Acids, are the building blocks of oils that are not produced by our bodies and must be consumed in our foods. In addition, we must be metabolically healthy to convert many fats to the particular fatty acids our bodies desperately need, AND the ratio is important. In our SAD (Standard American Diet) we get 10-50 times more poor quality Omega-6 fats than Omega-3, and the ratio should be much closer to 1:1. Our cells use these fats to form optimally functioning membranes--who wants membranes made of fried chicken fat?
What does your body need?
Linoleic Acid (LA) is an Omega-6 fatty acid in high concentrations in all the nut oils and without which we will surely die. Poor wound healing, eczema, hair loss, liver and kidney degeneration, heart and circulatory problem are some of the signs of deficiency.
Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) is produced by the body from LA but requires conversion. It is essential for production of series 1 prostaglandins which help prevent heart attacks and strokes, decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammatory responses, and even helps insulin work more effectively. Poor diets make conversion difficult for many people even though they ingest plenty of Omega-6 oils. A solution is to supplement from Evening Primrose, Borage, and Black Currant oils
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the principal Omega-3, has many of the effects of GLA due to its conversion to series 3 prostaglandins, and is very helpful in preventing and treating skin and autoimmune disorders. In healthy folks the body converts it to EPA and later DHA for brain benefits, cardiovascular and lipid quality benefits, good vision, balanced hormones and reproductive health, and proper development in infants and children. But good fats compete with bad fats in the body and most of the SAD inhibits this conversion, even from flax or hemp seeds rich in ALA. Thus many people really need to supplement Fish, Krill, or Marine Algae Oils to get adequate levels of EPA and DHA, and balance out the overabundance of Omega-6 fats in the diet.
What else MIGHT we need?
Other important fats include the monounsaturated Omega-9 Oleic Acids (OA) found richly in olive, avocado, and tree nuts; and monounsaturated Omega-7 Palmitoleic Acid (POA) in tropical oils like coconut and palm which our bodies convert into other necessary Omega-7 fatty acids. Omega-9 oils are non-essential because the body can produce them itself, but only if the Essential Fats are adequately present! For example, Olive oil is sufficient, so long as the EFAs are present and converted to EPA and DHA.
So what would be ideal?
You can see that a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is necessary for optimum health. The mass-produced oils like corn, soy, rapeseed, and some nut oils are devitalized and oxidized, providing poor nutrient quality. Getting fats from fish, olives, nuts, seeds and dark greens and supplementing with high quality concentrates from the seeds and marine sources listed above are bound to give us a far greater Omega balance and contribute to greater functioning in all our organs dependent upon Essential Fats.
Further information taken from Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Udo Erasmus, 1995 by Alive Books.
Originally published in, Remedies Magazine Summer 2014