FATTY ACIDS are the basic structural units of Lipids. Lipid is the general term
which refers to dietary fat. The body can synthesize many fatty acids. However,
those which it cannot manufacture in adequate amounts must be obtained from
the diet, and are termed Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs).
Fatty acids can be saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on
the degree to which the basic carbon chain of the molecule is filled with hydrogen.
The two essential fats are defined as Linolenic – an Omega-3 fatty acid, and
Linoleic Acid – an Omega-6 fatty acid. These terms, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty
acids, refer to which carbon atom of the fatty acid molecule the first double bond
is located. Many nutritionists and scientists feel the western diet emphasizes
Omega-6 fatty acids while Omega-3 fatty acids are under-consumed. Including
more Omega-3 rich foods in the diet and decreasing the consumption of red
meats, hydrogenated oils and other saturated fats may protect us against many
of today’s degenerative diseases.
EFAs are found most abundantly in Fish Oils and unadulterated Seed Oils such as
Canola, Sunflower and Safflower Oil. Flaxseed Oil is an exceptional oil containing
both essential fatty acids in appreciable amounts. Flax, also known as Linseed, is
nature’s richest source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Cold salt-water fatty fish such as
herring, haddock, cod, mackerel and salmon are also rich in Omega-3
polyunsaturates and serve as the source of Fish Oil supplements.
It has been recognised that EFAs have profound beneficial effects on the body
and influence hormone production, immunity and cardiovascular health.
Deficiencies of these various fatty acids have been associated with hormonal
imbalance and degenerative disease. Fatty acids maintain the structure and
function of the cellular and sub-cellular membranes. Cholesterol transport,
degradation and removal from the body is regulated by EFAs. In addition,
prostaglandin, hormone-like substances in the body, are influenced by Omega-3
and Omega-6 fatty acids through a series of enzyme-dependent reactions.
Prostaglandins functions include promoting smooth muscle contractions,
regulating blood pressure and gastro secretions and influencing other hormones.
Essential fatty acids are also important for normal growth, especially of blood
vessels and nerves. In addition, they keep the skin and other tissues youthful
and supple via their lubricating capacity.
The most important fatty acids include:
Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), Eicosapentaenoic
Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA).