Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) have been mentioned several times in this blog over the past few weeks, especially in the Friday recipe series which focuses upon tasty, nutritious recipes that help boost the skin from inside out. Fatty Acids have a huge role to play in maintaining good skin as well as general health and wellbeing. They are important nutritionally, and also have fantastic benefits when applied to the skin topically. There is much to be said on specific fatty acids, including Essential Fatty Acids, but a general introduction is always a good starting point. This post is a quick outline of what makes a fatty acid essential and why we should pay attention to what fatty acids we eat.
Essential Fatty Acids, or EFAs, are some of the most crucial building blocks for maintaining health on so many different levels. Every single living cell in the animal and human body requires a daily dose of EFAs, which are only obtained through the diet. EFAs are required for building, maintaining and regenerating the cells in the body. [pullquote]Every single living cell in the animal and human body requires a daily dose of EFAs, which are only obtained through the diet. EFAs are required for building, maintaining and regenerating the cells in the body. [/pullquote]They have an impressive range of functions, such as promoting healthy skin and hair, bolstering immunity, sustaining cardiovascular health, encouraging brain function, supporting the thyroid and adrenals and moderating inflammation. By weight, EFAs are the most required fat in the body.
What is are Essential Fatty Acids?
Fatty acids are the units that make up all fats. They become essential when the body cannot make them on its own, so it needs them supplied through the diet. So far there are only two known Essential Fatty Acids: alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Technically speaking, as long as these two primary fatty acids are provided for in the diet, the body should be capable of making all the other fatty acids it needs. However, there may be conditions in which the body cannot properly do this, and there are other fatty acids crucial to health that may become what is known as “conditionally essential”. For this reason, a well balanced diet that provides a range of different fatty acids is the sensible option.
Why is it important to think about the EFA’s in our diet?
Essential Fatty Acids are converted into hormone-like substances that play a role in the function and regulation of every cell and organ in the body. Health is dependent on the balance of omega-3 EFAs and omega-6 EFAs. Most people are deficient in omega-3 EFAs. These EFAs are found mostly in cold-water fish, such as salmon, dark leafy greens, like kale, and cold-pressed, non-rancid vegetable oils, such as flax seed, canola, soybean, walnut and pumpkin seed oils. Omega-6s are found in many vegetable oils. The proper omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is anywhere between 1 to 1 and 3 to 1. In the standard Western diet, this ratio can be disproportionately close to 20 to 1 – or more.[pullquote] Many vegetable oils consumed in the modern diet are hydrogenated, processed and rancid. These oils contain free radicals that end up causing health problems. Additionally, they can contribute to an EFA deficiency because they prevent the uptake of EFAs in the body.[/pullquote]
Today, Essential Fatty Acid deficiencies are more common than not. Many of the vegetable oils consumed in the modern diet are hydrogenated, processed and rancid. These oils contain free radicals that end up causing health problems. Additionally, they can contribute to an EFA deficiency because they prevent the uptake of EFAs in the body. EFA deficiencies can also be linked to ageing, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, drug abuse, viral infections, exposure to environmental toxins, cancer, chemotherapy and radiation.
Deficiencies in Essential Fatty Acids may result in dry, scaly skin, eczema, psoriasis, dry hair, hair loss, liver disorders, irritability, gallstones, varicose veins, susceptibility to infections, low body weight, retarded growth and infertility. A proper balance of EFAs can help promote youthful skin and hair, reduce pain and inflammation and reduce high cholesterol levels.