The Importance of Fatty Acids
Every single function of the body, right down to the beating of your heart, depends on the presence of the right fats and fatty acids in cell membranes.
What are Essential Fatty Acids
Fat - essential for life
Fat comes in good and bad forms, and too much bad fat in your diet can contribute to obesity. However, too little fat can also be very bad for you, particularly if you're very young - and too little of the vital Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFAs) could contribute to a variety of health issues:
- Reduced learning ability
- Slower development
- Hormonal imbalance
- Dry skin
- Inflammatory diseases
There are two 'families' of essential fatty acids (EFAs), the Omega-3 and Omega-6 series, the 'parents' of which are an essential component of a healthy diet as they cannot be produced by our bodies:
- Linoleic acid (LA) is the parent fatty acid of the Omega-6 family and is commonly found in vegetable oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, rapeseed oil and soya oil. Evening Primrose Oil is a member of the Omega-6 family.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the parent of the Omega-3 family and predominantly comes from green leafy vegetables and some vegetable oils (flax, rape and soya), while the longer chain members of the Omega-3 series are predominantly found in fish and fish oils.
These essential fatty acids are converted in the body by enzymes into Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFAs). The four most important LCPUFAs needed by the body are:
- Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) - An important Omega-6 nutrient needed for important bodily functions such as the maintenance of hormonal balance and healthy skin structure. Can also be broken down into AA.
- Arachidonic Acid (AA) - An important Omega-6 nutrient found in the membranes of nerves and helps with the transmission of messages in the central nervous system.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) - An important Omega-3 nutrient needed by the body for the structure of nerves and cells and is needed for brain and eye health in particular.
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) - An important Omega-3 nutrient needed by the body for the role it plays in maintaining healthy and supple joints, circulation and heart health.
Why diet alone may not ensure sufficient GLA, DHA, EPA and AA
Unfortunately, the body's conversion of essential fatty acids to LCPUFAs is an inefficient process, especially in the very young and old and during times of stress or illness. However, the biggest contributing factor towards an LCPUFA deficiency is the modern lifestyle and diet:
- High consumption of alcohol, caffeine, saturated fats, sugar, nicotine and excess cholesterol can affect the efficiency of enzymes and therefore inhibit the manufacture of LCPUFAs in the body
- An increase in vegetable oil consumption has resulted in excess Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet
- An increase in vegetarianism has resulted in an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids, while strict vegetarian diets provide no DHA, EPA or AA
- Increases in hydrogenated fats in processed foods has increased trans fatty acid consumption
- Low fish consumption leads to low intakes of the vital LCPUFAs DHA and EPA
- Farmed fish and meat from cattle fattened on cereals rather than grass have less Omega-3 LCPUFAs than before
- Over the years, breast milk composition has changed and mother's milk now has less DHA and more Omega-6 fatty acids
The importance of Evening Primrose Oil and Fish Oil
The impaired conversion of the parent essential fatty acids means their LCPUFA derivatives GLA, EPA, DHA and AA need to be supplied pre-formed in the diet, and many years of research have pointed to Evening Primrose Oil as the most reliable source of GLA. Fish oil from oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon are a rich source of EPA and DHA.