Skip to content

What Are Essential Fatty Acids?

sources of essential fatty acids

What Are Essential Fatty Acids?

Posted in ,

Essential fatty acids or EFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids that cannot be made in the body which is why it is essential that we ingest them through the diet or supplementation. There are two families of EFA’s omega-3 and omega-6. Incidentally Omega 9 fatty acids can be produced by the body so dietary ingestion is not essential.

By Caren Wigmore ND

Essential Fatty Acids are beneficial for: 

  • Dry skin or hair
  • Back or joint pain
  • High cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Family history of CVD
  • Depression, anxiety, mood swings
  • Foggy brain/ forgetful
  • Feel stress easily
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding

How much do we need and how often?

Our western diet is high in omega-6 essential fatty acids which when consumed in excess can exacerbate inflammation and the development of chronic disease (Sunflower oil, canola oil,  corn oil, grapeseed oil, walnuts, soyabean oil, cottonseed oil).  Anything processed is likely to use a vegetable based oil. Don’t be caught out by so called “healthy snacks” – they are often high in omega 6 so it is really important to increase omega 3’s to balance this ratio out on a daily basis. 

The Golden Omega 3’s

Here are some of the key ways in which Omega-3 and Omega-6 can support our health.

Reduce Pain and inflammation – these omegas play a pivotal role in directing inflammatory markers and can produce an anti-inflammatory effect.  Any aging aches and pains are often well supported using good quality omega’s. 

Healthy Heart and Cholesterol: HDL/LDL/Triglycerides – the good the bad and the ugly.  By supporting “protective” cholesterol – HDL; you can help protect against long term disease.  They can also maintain healthy blood pressure and peripheral circulation. 

Cognitive Function: Our brain is made up of a staggering 60% fat.  The quality of this fat is crucial – it determines your brain’s integrity and ability to perform.   Most of the brain growth is completed by 5-6 years of age. The EFAs, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids, are important for brain development during both the fetal and postnatal period (which is why we LOVE breastfeeding mum’s and toddlers to top-up on good quality EFA’s)  and don’t forget the elderly – EFA’s maintain memory and protect against dementia. 

Improving Moods: Studies have shown us that people who experience depression, anxiety and other mood related conditions are often low in EFA’s.  

Pregnancy and Lactation:  Omega 3 EFA’s ensure healthy brain an nervous system development in the developing foetus and ongoing nutritional support for the mother post nataly and through breastfeeding. 

Skin, Hair and Nails:  Dry skin, hair and nails can be a sign of omega-3 EFA deficiency  Think of it as moisturising from the inside out. 

Maintaining Healthy Cells:  Every cell in your body has a cell membrane through which we receive oxygen, vital nutrients and eliminate waste effectively. The cell membrane needs to be flexible and relies on EFA’s for this.  This is also where stress comes in to play:  a healthy cell membrane protects the brain from excess cortisol which longer term if over-exposed can lead to foggy thinking, difficulty making decisions and poor memory re-call. 

How do I boost Essential Fatty Acid’s?

  • 2-3 serves of fresh fish per week – Tuna, salmon, cod, mackerel, herring
  • A handful of nuts and seeds a day
  • Add up to two tablespoon of healthy oils into your cooking:  cold pressed olive oil or flaxseed oil  (remember it takes “good fat” to burn “bad fat”)

Take natural fish oil or krill oil supplements – but with fish oil QUALITY IS KEY!

Fish oils should be tested rigorously for freshness and purity to ensure their efficacy and safety. 

The first thing I’ll always ask a patient taking fish oils is WHAT BRAND.   It matters hugely when it comes to FISH OILS.  I’m often heard telling patients they are better off feeding their fish oils to their dog  (or not, depending how precious your pooch is!)

 Heavy metal loading and environmental toxins are becoming a big issue in our precious seafood (sadly due to water contamination).  There are surprisingly few companies that sensitively test for heavy metals and environmental toxins. It’s always best to use a company that is third party tested.  We can then confidently trust the quality of that product. ALL FISH oils used in our clinic are Third Party Tested for heavy metals and environmental toxins and radiation.  

If you can’t tell if a fish oil has been tested for freshness, an easy way to assess it yourself is to bite into the capsule or taste the liquid. If the oil smells or tastes strongly of fish and causes reflux or fishy burps, then it is likely rancid – and that is NOT a beneficial fish oil.

So the take home: 

  • EFA’s are essential – we need to eat them often, daily, in our diet for our brain, heart and whole body. 
  • Quality is important and if you are super keen and want to look further we do offer an Essential Fatty Acids test:  have a look at this sample report.
sample report from an essential fatty acids test.

If you are suffering from symptoms that you feel may be associated with nutritional deficiencies make an appointment with me and I’ll happily help you get to the bottom of your symptoms.

We offer Naturopathy and Nutritional Medicine consultations

at 2 convenient locations, Brisbane CBD and Graceville