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Essential Fatty Acids

EFAs - Omega3 & 6 Fatty Acids - Fish Oils

What are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)?

Despite a general widespread belief that the consumption of all fats is bad for your health, the fact is dietary fat is essential to optimum health and fitness.  The essential fatty acids (EFAs) consist of two groups of fats: 1) Omega3 fatty acids, and 2) Omega6 fatty acids.  EFAs are necessary building blocks for all cell membranes in the human body.  Both of these types fatty acids are essential for life.  The increased processing of foods has significantly lowered the amount of EFA’s in our diet.  Many people now consume insufficient amounts of EFA’s which may lead to health problems.

Who Should Consider Taking Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)?

Increasing the intake of fatty acids (EFAs) – either through dietary sources or through supplementation – even in the absence of a deficiency can improve health, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lead to decreases in body fat.  Therefore everyone can benefit from EFA supplements.

Summary of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) Phyiological Effects:

  • Helps to stabilise/ lower blood pressure
  • May increase fat metabolism
  • Can enhance brain function
  • Reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes
  • Reduce inflamation and improve joint health

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) Research

Omega3 fatty acids, in particular, have positive effects on blood pressure, the immune system, and blood cholesterol levels.  Omega3 fatty acids are known to enhance lipolysis (body fat breakdown) and decrease lipogenesis (body fat formation) (Couet et al., 1997).  This means EFAs can reduce the amount of body fat production and increase fat metabolism when EFA consumption is increased.  Another positive effect associated with omega3 fatty acid supplementation is an increased human growth hormone (somatotropin) response following supplementation (Bucci, 1993) and therefore may enhance the recovery process after exercise.

Many fish contain Omega3 fatty acids, including: mackerel, herring, and sardines.  Fish contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.  These are both important for brain function, but, in particular DHA has a particularly positive effect on brain function.  Plant sources of omega3 fatty acids include: flaxseed oil, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables).  Plant sources contain the omega-3 fatty acid ALA which can be converted to EPA by enzymes in the human body.

Omega-3 supplements include: cod-liver oil, concentrated fish oils, and flaxseed oil.

Omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to be highly beneficial, to health, as well.  Omega-6 fatty acids are converted to gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and then to prostagladins, by enzymes in the human body.   Prostagladins help to regulate inflammation, have positive effects on blood pressure and heart function, and are known to regulate hormone levels.  Dietary sources of omega-6 fatty acids include: nuts, seeds, most vegetable oils but starflower oil is a particular good source.

Omega-6 supplements include: starflower oil (sometimes called borage oil) and evening primrose oil.

Are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) effective?

Fatty acids appear to be effective at regulating blood cholesterol levels, stabilising blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease.

How to take Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)?

A general recommendation for supplementation would be 2,000-3,000mg of Omega-3 and 500-1,000mg of omega-6.

Essential Fatty Acids References

Bucci, L. (1993) Nutrients as ergogenic aids for sport and exercise. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 6; 20. 

Couet, C., Delarue, J., Ritz, P., Antoine, J-M. and Lamisse, F. (1997) Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. Interantional Journal of Obesity. 21, 637-643