Essential Fatty Acids are “essential” because they are indispensable — and our bodies cannot manufacture them.
Some essential fatty acids are Omega-3’s, others are Omega-6’s. This has to do with their biochemical structures.
We must get essential fatty acids from foods or through dietary supplements.
Although many fatty acid supplements come as an oil bound to triglycerides (like fish oil gels or liquid), they may also be found in dry caplet form bound to other substances such as phospholipids or proteins.
There are three types of Essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- ALA – Alpha-linolenic acid
- Broad range antioxidant that quenches free radicals. (ALA is water and fat soluble.)
- Noted for its support of healthy blood sugar levels by increasing the cell’s ability to take in glucose.
- Important for healthy skin; ingredient of many skin care products.
- Sources: mostly plant sources – seeds and seed oils (flaxseed, walnuts, pumpkin, chia seeds, canola) and in soy, tofu, and olives.
- DHA – Docosahexaenoic acid
- Studied for learning and memory support, for healthy development and repair of the brain and nervous system, and for ocular (eye) health.
- Major component of the brain’s gray matter.
- Important structural component of heart tissue.
- Found in the testes and sperm.
- Naturally found in breastmilk.
- Eye tissues have the highest concentration of DHA in the body.
- Sources: fish and fish oils, especially cold water fish (salmon, cod liver oil, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, herring, halibut), seaweed, krill and algae; cod liver oil contains more DHA than EPA and naturally has vitamin D and vitamin A.
- EPA – Eicosapentaenoic Acid
- Studied for its promotion of joint flexibility, its anti-inflammatory properties, and cardio-protective properties.
- Sources: fish and fish oils, especially cold water fish (salmon, cod liver oil, mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna).
There are two types of Essential Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- LA – linoleic acid
- May be pro-inflammatory.
- Involved with hair, skin and wound healing.
- Excesses of LA in the US are a clinical concern (vs. deficiencies).
- Sources: seed and grain oils (sunflower, corn, soy, safflower), animal feeds composed of these seeds and grains.
- GLA – gamma-linolenic acid
- Unique and healthful Omega-6 fatty acid.
- Has anti-inflammatory properties (most omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory).
- Studied for its benefits for certain joint and tissue conditions as well as its promotion of healthy skin, hair and nails.
- May help with chronic inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.
- May work synergistically with omega-3 fatty acids and support hormonal balance.
- Sources: evening primrose oil, borage oil and black current oil.
As for many things in life, your state of health is related to balance. In this case, it’s a healthy ratio of Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s.