Essential Fatty Acids - EFA

Essential fatty acids or EFA are fatty acids that animals and humans need to ingest, because it acts as fuel energy and is required for the human body's biological processes. EFAs :-

  • Help regulate vital body functions.
  • Help tissue development.
  • Manufacture and repair cell membranes.
  • Essential for good health.

EFA are polyunsaturated fatty acids that can be synthesized in plants but not by the human body, hence it may cause nutritional deficiency if not ingested through diet and/or supplements.

It can be divided into two groups:

Unsaturated Fatty Acids Versus Saturated Fatty Acids

Unsaturated fatty acids (vegetable oils) have the introduction of double bonds in the hydrocarbon chain.

Monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g. oleic acid) have a single double bond while polyunsaturated fatty acid (e.g. linoleic acid) have multiple double bonds.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids remain liquid at room temp. If it needs to be solidified, it has to be saturated with hydrogen or hydrogenated. This is done by breaking the carbon double bonds and attaching hydrogen. The monounsaturated fatty acids are considered good fats because of the lower cholesterol content.

Saturated fatty acids (meat, dairy products and butter) are fats that are evenly filled out with hydrogen and remains solidified at room temperature.

Due to its tightly packed structure, saturated fatty acids increase the levels of bad cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and clog the arteries. While, in contrast, unsaturated fatty acids improve the levels of good cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein (HDL) by carrying bad cholesterol to the liver, where it is broken down and passed out of the body as waste, hence, removed from the body.

What are the Functions of Essential Fatty Acids?

The main function of EFA is the production of prostalglandis which regulate and control the body functions such as :-

  • The cardiovascular system and the heart rate
  • Blood pressure levels
  • Blood clots
  • Play a part in the function of the immune system by regulating inflammation and encouraging the body to fight infection.
  • Fertility and conception. The foetus (unborn infant) and breast fed infants require the adequate supply of EFA through the mother's dietary consumption.
  • Growth in children, especially for neural growth and development, and maturation of the sensory systems.

What are the Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids?

  • Hormone production
  • Support healthy skin, hair and nails
  • Development of healthy and balanced cell membranes
  • Proper thyroid and adrenal activity
  • Proper growth and performance of the brain and nervous system
  • Regulation of blood pressure, liver function, immune and inflammatory responses
  • Crucial for the transport and breakdown of cholesterol
  • Regulation of blood clot formation : Omega 6 fatty acid encourage blood clots, while Omega 3 fatty acid reduce blood clots. Hence, achieving a balance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.

Tackling Acne and the Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

EFA are powerful anti-inflammatory agents that control the amount of androgens in the body, thus reducing the amount of sebum (skin's natural oil) and acne breakouts in the process.

Linoleic acid is an EFA that the sebaceous glands (oil glands) use as a normal component of sebum. It helps promote healthy skin. However, due to hereditary factors, high consumption of trans fatty acids or low consumption of essential fatty acids some people have a systemic deficiency of EFA and linoleic acid. This may be the main driving factor in causing acne and other severe skin conditions.

Modern foods lack these EFA and contain trans fatty acids instead, which encourages the break down of the body's supply of essential fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are known to promote acne eruptions and breakouts.

Studies have shown that trans fatty acid break down the body’s supply of important and beneficial EFA. As a result linoleic acid becomes unobtainable in the skin; an EFA deficiency. The sebaceous glands use oleic acid to produce sebum. This makes it desiccant, firmer, irritating and aggravating to the skin. It encourages clogging that causes blackheads, whiteheads and acne.

Omega 3 decreases inflammation and Omega 6 encourages inflammation. However, a lack of these oils encourages the development of skin conditions while a correct balance helps to maintain and promote well being.

Sources of Essential Fatty Acids

Fish oil, salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, herring and trout fish.

Avocados, sesame seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ,

flaxseed, olives, pecans and pistachio nuts.

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