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The Importance of Essential Fatty Acids
Your health is your responsibility. Foods and nutrition are the primary options for maintaining good health.
Nutrients do not work in isolation, they work as a team to build and support health as well as repair damage. Absence of any one of these essential nutrients is enough to compromise or destroy our mental or physical health.
If we attempt to keep ourselves healthy by making sure our fat intake is optimal without also making sure that optimum amounts of other essential nutrients are present in our diets, our attempts to attain, maintain or regain health will inevitably fail.
The importance of fat in the diet can be illustrated by an event that took place involving Asian refugees. These refugees were rescued from boats that had been adrift for a long period of time on the open sea, in order to escape political oppression and chaos; they had left family, home, cultural and possessions for an unknown world, risking life and limb for the hope of a better life. The refugees only had the clothes on their backs and small containers which they had been unwilling to leave behind. Rescuers who opened these containers found them filled with rancid, stinking fat, and when they questioned the refugees they explained that this was their most precious possession. Of all the things to have taken with them into the new world, they had chosen fat. The extreme conditions in which they drifted had destroyed their treasure, but they knew the importance of fat for good health and valued it above all otherworldly things. Most of us do not share the same view as these Asian refugees on the value of fat and this is largely due to the bad publicity that fats have been given.
In striving to attain good health it is important to get a better understanding as to the good fats and oils in our diets, as well as those bad fats and oils which need to be eliminated from our diets.
BAD FATS and OILS are the saturated fats or hard fats which are derived from animal products. These saturated fats can cause degenerative disease and cardiac problems. Oils such as sunflower oil when exposed to heat become hydrogenated (trans-fats) creating free radicals which can again be detrimental to our overall health, causing disease.
GOOD FATS or ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS are those that are essential to the body to maintain good health and yet the body is not able to make them therefore they have to be obtained from the diet.
OMEGA 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids include EPA ( Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA ( Docosahexaenoic acid) also known as ALA(Alpha-Linolenic acid). Dietary sources include; fish oils such as herring, mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon and anchovies while plants sources include flax seed (Linseed) and pumpkin seed.
DMAC should not be taken if you are on anti-epileptic medication, Warfarin or are allergic to fish.
In Brain Health and Pregnancy DHA is one of the crucial nutrients required by the brain and eyes during the early stages of development and an ongoing adequate supply of DHA is also necessary to properly care for the brain throughout life. Omega 3 fatty acids are the primary building blocks of the brain and retina in the eye. The human brain is made up of 60% fat of which DHA is the most abundant fatty acid. During the first few weeks of embryonic development when the brain cell division is most active, a mother’s blood supplies the fetus with large amounts of DHA. DHA is important throughout the pregnancy as the DHA content of the cerebrum and cerebellum (important areas in the brain) increases 3 fold during the last trimester.
In the development of the eye DHA is also required for visual development as it makes up almost 60% of the rod outer segments in the retina. The percentage of DHA in retinal tissue increases rapidly in the latter half of pregnancy. Cell membranes of the retina and visual cortex are highly enriched during the last trimester, which is the period of most rapid eye development.
In Memory, Concentration and Learning Fish oils are a very good source of PS (Phosphotidyl Serine), which is an amino acid derivative compound that is fat-soluble and found in high concentrations in the brain, where it contributes to cognitive functioning and may improve memory in the elderly as well as lowering cortisol levels. Supplementation may greatly improve mental health as well as preventing cognitive decline. PS literally helps make up the structure of your brain cells, and supplementation addresses many symptoms of cognitive decline including Alzheimer’s disease, conserving memory, learning, concentration and other high mental capacities in the face of advancing age.
Fish oils also contain a lot of DMAC (Dimethylaminoethanol). DMAC is produced in the brain however with ageing these levels are reduced and it, therefore, becomes essential in order to enhance brain function. DMAC increases acetylcholine levels in the brain which stimulates mental activity, increases mental alertness, helps with anxiety and elevates mood in general.
Anti-inflammatory & Cholesterol Lowering DMAC helps with inflammation by producing prostaglandins which are anti-inflammatory, reducing cholesterol by lowering the LDL and increasing your HDL (good cholesterol) thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks.
OMEGA 6 fatty acids
Omega 6 is also known as LA (Linoleic Acid) and GLA (Gamma Linoleic Acid) Sources include Evening Primrose & Borage oils.
Omega 6 is contraindicated for persons taking anti-epileptic medications.
In Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) Omega 6 fatty acids in the form of LA are converted into GLA and eventually into prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) which control a variety of physiological functions including hormone production and nerve transmission, both particularly relevant in the prevention of PMS. GLA improves many symptoms including pre-menstrual bloating, headaches, depression, and irritability. The hormone modulating effects of prostaglandins derived from essential fatty acids makes them particularly important in optimal hormone health.
In Breast Health Omega 6 fatty acids in the form of GLA may be helpful in reducing the pain and tenderness of breasts pre-menstrual.
In Skin Health GLA may be one of the most important nutrients for the promotion of skin health. Various skin conditions including eczema and dry skin respond well to additional GLA intake from both Borage and Evening Primrose oils and there seems to be a connection between eczema and a GLA deficiency.
OMEGA 9 fatty acids
Omega 9 (Oleic Acid) is derived from Monosaturated fats such as olive oil, almonds, avocados and certain nuts. Monosaturated fatty acids can be metabolized into energy and are also incorporated into the nerve fibers and cell membranes assisting in cell membrane integrity, helping in Hypertension and Cardiovascular disease.
Essential fatty acids are essential for the body as the body is unable to synthesize these fatty acids, it is, therefore, necessary to get them from the diet by eating enough fresh fish, nuts and seeds. We all know that this is not always possible for one reason or another. It may therefore be greatly beneficial to add a good Essential Fatty Acid supplement to your daily regime in order to achieve good health.
Supplements ideally need to be organic, free-range or wild fish, should be cold-pressed as oils that are exposed to heat become hydrogenated and create free radicals which are detrimental to our health. The advantage of plant sources it that you do not have to worry about heavy metal contamination; however these have to be converted into EPA, DHA and GLA. There is an enzyme in the body that facilitates this conversion but with age if you are not getting all the nutrients from your diet the body does not produce enough of this enzyme and therefore the conversion becomes a slow process and inadequate. The fish option is therefore best as it does not need conversion and is therefore readily available for the body to utilize. When choosing a supplement make sure you get a high strength EPA and DHA as concentrations vary greatly from product to product.
Some people struggle with essential fatty acids supplements or oils complaining that they repeat on them, this is very common with people who have had their gallbladder removed and in this case it can be taken together with Lecithin which is a fat emulsifier and assists the liver in breaking down the fats and so preventing the problem.
The dietary intact of saturated fats from animal products should be avoided or reduced, as these promote inflammation and cardiac problems. In the preparation of foods one should avoid heating oils such as sunflower and olive oil as this causes hydrogenation of the oils, producing trans-fats and free radicals which should be avoided. Coconut oil should rather be used when heat is needed while olive oil should be used in salads etc when heat is not required.