Essential Fatty Acids

By definition, an essential fatty acid is one that is necessary to have in our diet. If we do not consume them, our health is adversely affected. These essential fatty acids are: linoleicaicd (LA), and alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). Linoleicacid, or LA is an omega 6 fatty acid. Omega 6 means that the double bond of the fatty acid occurs at the sixth carbon. What is perhaps more pertinent is that omega 6 fatty acids come from vegetable oils.   LNA has three double bonds and is an omega 3 oil. If either LA or LNA is missing or deficient in the diet, cells deteriorate and symptoms will develop.

Arachidonic acid (AA) was thought to be essential, but our bodies can make it from LA. AA is found in animal fat.

A lot has been written and broadcast about the dangers of eating fat. Doctors, athletic trainers and dieticians are recommending low-fat diets. What has been lost in the midst of all of this advice is that fat is actually a necessary component of your diet. You need fats and oils for a properly functioning immune system, integrity of the skin and mucus membranes and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D and K). Not all fats are created equal. Some need to be avoided; some are a vital component of a healthy diet. Most Americans need to add a source of essential fatty acids to their diets; so avoiding fats completely is not always a good idea.

The low fat craze has been replaced by an anti-carbohydrate craze. It is true that Americans eat too many refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately, many who avoid carbohydrates mistakenly believe that they can eat any kind of fat that they like. Avoidance of carbohydrates has created for many, a license to eat too many saturated fats and hydrogenated oils.

Americans are commonly deficient in essential fatty acids for a variety of reasons. One of the main causes of essential fatty acid deficiency is the consumption of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenation is a process in which hydrogen is bubbled through oil, turning it into a solid. Unfortunately, it changes the chemistry of the oil so that it is unusable by the body. Hydrogenating oil turns a liquid oil into a solid fat with a very long shelf-life—good for food processors, bad for your health. The fats created are called “trans fats” and they can create health problems.

Trans fats not only cause health problems of their own, they prevent the essential fatty acids from being properly utilized by tying up the enzymes necessary for their metabolism. In fact one common sign of trans fats creating problems is a craving for fried food, or snacks fried in oil, like potato chips. The body is actually craving the essential oil it needs, but when deep-fried food is substituted it “gums-up” the works, creating a more severe deficiency than if the fried food was never consumed.

Trans fats get incorporated into cells, lowering cellular integrity. Cells become more prone to microbial invasion. One common problem created by this is dry skin. Another problem is muscles that fatigue easily. Since the myelin sheath is largely composed of fat, transfats may affect function of the nervous system and there may be a connection to attention-deficit disorder (ADD). They have also been linked to heart disease and breast cancer.

Trans fats also help create chemicals that cause inflammation and inhibit chemicals that prevent inflammation. Patients suffering from chronic pain and inflammation should strictlyavoid hydrogenated oil and trans fats. For that matter, they should go easy on meat products since they too may contribute to inflammation.

Another reason for essential fatty acid deficiency is the prevalence of low-fat diets. Americans are so afraid of fat that they will consume sugar and all manner of chemicals if the food promises to be low in fat. The problem isn’t the amount of fat we eat as much as it is the quality of the fat we eat.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) absorb sunlight. EFAs are part of all cell membranes. EFAsrepel each other, to they keep membranes fluid, giving them the ability to carry toxins out through the skin, GI tract, kidneys, and lungs. EFAs are though to be involved with the transfer of oxygen from air in our lungs through the alveolar membranes. They also help with tissue oxygenation through the capillaries. EFAs are also important for the organelles within the cells like the ER (protein synthesis), Golgi (cellular secretions), mitochondria (energy productions) and nucleus (the cell’s genetic well-being). EFAs are vital for brain development in children.

According to Fats that Heal/Fats that Kill, by Udo Erasmus, the following symptoms are present with essential fatty acid deficiency:

LA Deficiency:

  • Exzema-like skin eruptions
  • Hair loss
  • Liver degeneration
  • Behavioral problems
  • Excess thirst (caused by water loss through the skin)
  • Susceptibility to infections
  • Poor wound healing
  • Sterility in males
  • Miscarriage in females
  • Arthralgia
  • Heart and circulatory problems
  • Growth retardation

LNA Deficiency:

  • Growth retardation
  • Weakness
  • Vision impairment
  • Poor learning ability
  • Incoordination
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Behavioral changes
  • High triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Platelet aggregation
  • Inflammation
  • Edema
  • Dry skin
  • Mental deterioration
  • Low metabolic rate
  • Immune dysfunction

Three to six grams per day of LA and between one and three grams of LNA are enough to keep symptoms away. Optimum levels are about three times that much.
Dietary and Lifestyle Guidelines:

  • Absolutely avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils: As time passes, we keep finding out more and more bad things about hydrogenated oil and fried foods. Hydrogenation is the food industry’s way of turning a liquid oil into a solid fat. This gives packaged foods a longer shelf-life than if they were made with natural oils. Hydrogenation produces trans fats, which have been linked to a number of health problems.
  • Women with higher levels of trans fats in their cells are much more likely to develop breast cancer than those with low levels.
  • High levels of trans fats create platelet aggregation, which is the beginning of the plaque associated with coronary heart disease.
  • Pain and inflammation become much worse for patients who consume hydrogenated oils. They chemically prevent the formation of natural anti-inflammatory substances that are normally produced by the body. If you suffer from chronic pain or have recently been injured, strictly avoid hydrogenated oil.
  • Trans fats are incorporated into the cells and make them less resistant to bacteria and viruses. They are a source of immune system problems.
  • There may be a link between transfats and ADD, depression and fatigue. Brain and nerve tissue have a high content of fat. Some researches believe that when transfats are incorporated into the nerve cells they affect certain functions, creating problems like ADD and depression.
  • Muscle fatigue and skin problems are also linked to hydrogenated oils.
  • Most chips and fried snacks contain hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils are found in a lot of packaged foods like crackers, cereals and even bread. They are in margarine, mayonnaise and a lot of bottled salad dressings. Read labels.
  • Not all fats are bad for you. Permissible fats include raw nuts (not roasted), virgin or extra virgin olive oil and avocados.
  • Eat foods that contain essential fatty acids:Raw nuts and seeds and cold water fish (like salmon) are good sources of essential fatty acids. Call us for a consultation and we will discuss this and other issues with you.

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