Essential fatty acids, EFA, controls inflammation in every cell of your body. It is considered today just as important as vitamins and minerals.

"Essential" means our bodies cant manufacture these fatty acids on their own. Simply, you cant live without EFA. One of the most important nutrients in the body is essential fatty acids. Let us now call them EFA for short.
In 1956 we first heard about EFA from a British doctor named Sinclair who proposed that most of the chronic diseases were due to low intake of EFA. It took another ten years before we observed that Greeks from Crete had half the cancer rate that we have in the U.S. And they also had half the death rate of the Japanese.

Well, in 1970 it was observed that in Greenland, the Eskimos never had heart disease, and also rarely had diabetes and asthma. Now almost 50 years since Dr. Sinclair's observation, EFA is discussed constantly and a great deal of research has been generated on the subject.

There still has not been set any recommended daily dietary allowances for EFA. However, we can't be without essential fatty acids. The body is capable of producing its own fat from excess carbohydrates and protein but it cannot produce fats called essential fatty acids.

EFA works on all of our cells to support good health. Most of our foods grow in soil with chemicals added and these foods are stripped of essential nutrients during processing. EFA controls inflammation and can even heal arthritis, bowel inflammations, heart disease and possibly cancer

We can get these nutrients through pills or from our foods. Simple changes in our diets can be helpful in prevention and also treating illnesses. As is true for acupuncture, EFA can restore the physical balance that makes us well. We look for the health secret that will make us younger and happier. We don't have to be wealthy or eat an unbalanced diet to get healthy.

What makes EFA so important? EFA makes the cell membranes strong, fluid, and very pliable. Nutrients then can pass through the cell walls and substances can leave the cells to pass back into the blood. They make red blood cells, carry oxygen and hormones that affect blood clotting and heart rate.

There are many types of EFA. OMEGA 3 is one essential type. It is found in cold-water fish, nuts, seeds, and flaxseed. The major acid in this type is alpha-linolenic acid. This acid makes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA for short). Cold-water fish is a good source of EPA.

Cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna, live in frigid water. To stay warm they accumulate a thick layer of fat under their skins. They eat a lot of plankton that also has alpha-lineolinic acid and red and brown algae that contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

The fish need these plankton foods to make their own fatty acids. Fish raised on farms are usually fed grain and have very little EPA and DHA. Note that fish that is fried or baked lose their EFA because of the high temperature of the cooking.

Always try to get fresh fish because it is a complete food and has protein, vitamin E, calcium and many other nutrients.
A deficiency of omega 3 includes tingling and numbness in the arms or legs, decreased immunity, mood swings, depression, dry skin, arthritis, asthma impaired vision and memory loss.

OMEGA 6 fatty acid is another essential fatty acid. It is made up primarily of linoleic acid. Limonene acid is an essential fatty acid. It is found in cold-water marine fish (like salmon). It can also be found in seeds, grains, eggs and poultry.

Other sources are leafy vegetables and cooking oils, such as corn and soybean oil. The body turns linoleic acid into a fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid, GLA for short. A deficiency in omega 6 includes excess thirst, dry hair, brittle nails, heart disease, and male sterility.



Flaxseed oil contains lignans. This seems to have antiviral, ant fungal, and antibacterial properties Lignans blocks some of the effect of estrogen and hence may reduce risk of breast cancer. Omega 3 is high in flaxseed and thus may reduce heart disease by decreasing clotting time and lowering LDL cholesterol levels.

Since omega 3 lowers prostoglandins that cause inflammation, flaxseed may be good for inflammatory diseases as arthritis and asthma. It is also a natural laxative because of high fiber content (called mucilage). It also has a minute amount of cyanogenic glycosides that convert to cyanide in the body. All this speaks for limiting flaxseed to 4 tablespoons a day.


Nuts have high amounts of both omega 3 and omega 6. But they are also one of the rare foods loaded with Vitamin E. They have a high calorie and high fat content, but the fat content is all healthy unsaturated fat.


This plant has tiny seeds rich in EFA especially linoleic acid (LA) and gamma linolenic acid (GFA). This is an excellent source of omega-6 fatty acids. Borage oil and black currant oil have even more GLA than evening primrose and are good alternatives.


What makes vegetable oils good or bad sources of EFA? All oils are made by pressing nuts, vegetables or seed to remove the oils. This would be a great source of EFA except for the fact that the more processed the oil, the less EFA it contains. When shopping, buy cold pressed oils. They are kept below 120 degrees. This preserves the vitamin E in oils, which prevents the EFA from turning rancid. Many brands of oil use a chemical solvent to remove the oils and this lowers the EFA levels. Light and heat degrade EFA. Avoid oils sold in clear glass containers or in plastic bottles. The soft plastic releases some of its estrogen-like compounds into the oils.


Oils with a mono-unsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid can be cooked at high temperatures. Olive oil safflower and sunflower oil contain high oleic acid levels.


Essential fatty acids are unsaturated. This means they are less solid and less stable than saturated fats that are found in dairy foods, red meat and snack foods. Saturated fats have tight bundles of molecules, are low in vitamin E, are not likely to become rancid, and have a long shelf life. Vitamin E in EFA-containing oils keeps the oils fresh and active.


Every cell in the body is diverse, has different jobs and produces different enzymes. Each cell factory enzyme triggers chemical reactions that control your body's functions. As your blood is filled with EFA after a fatty meal, the EFA lands on the membrane covering of cells and is stored.

An enzyme phospholipase A2 releases the EFA from the cell membrane as a chemical called eicosanoid. EFA transforms into several eicosanoids--prostaglandins, thromboxanes, prostacyclins, and leukotrienes.

All tissues produce eicosanoids. Each form of fatty acids produces a different eicosanoid and each has a different function in the body. We divide the eicosanoids into two main groups: Prostanoids and Leukotrienes. Most tissues have a large amount of one or the other eicosanoides.


The amount in the tissues is always changing depending on the stimulus, such as injury or infection. When high levels of eicosanoids are high, tissue damage and pain can occur.

Doctors use medications to block them (e.g. cortisone for arthritis). Cortisone blocks the release of phospholipase A2, the enzyme that releases eicosanoids from cell membranes. Motrin and aspirin block cycloxygenase, the enzyme that causes inflammation.


This class of eicosanoids affects the immune system's ability to fight infections by triggering an inflammatory process. When too much of this leuktrienes is formed people suffer from asthma, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Acupuncture can lower the leuktriene level and relieve the asthma and arthritis symptoms. However when this level is too low, one's immune system cannot fight disease.


Many of us think we should avoid cholesterol at all costs. The truth is we cannot live without cholesterol. It is the raw material that makes steroids. Cholesterol is used to make cell membranes and fat digesting fluid called bile. The liver makes most of the cholesterol we need. We get additional cholesterol from eating meats and dairy foods.

The problem occurs when the body makes more cholesterol than it needs. Free radicals (molecules with harmful oxygen molecules) damage this excess cholesterol. This makes the cholesterol sticky and it adheres to the artery linings.

This increases the risk of blockage of blood flow to the heart and brain and increases the risk of blood clots. People with very high triglycerides and who took omega 3, had their cholesterol drop as much as 80%.


Cholesterol is the most common organic molecule in the brain. The most popular drugs to lower cholesterol are called HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. They block the liver from making cholesterol. These drugs are commonly called "statins".

No one knows the effects these drugs have on EFA in the body. When taken with EPA (omega 3) arachidonic acid (ARA) is increased. Potentially a low level of EPA to ARA ratio may result in an increase of inflammatory chemicals in the body.

36 million people take cholesterol-lowering drugs as Lovastatin, Simvastatin, Lipitor, Zocor and Pravachol and others. Side effects, such as muscle aches and memory low are common complaints.

Estimates of muscle pain side effects are undisputed and range from 5% to 30%. Baycol was removed from the market last year after being linked to 100 deaths from a rare muscle wasting condition called rhabdomyolysis.

Many people quit these drugs because of cloudy thinking, irritability, personality changes and pain. Common complaints are inability to remember the name of a grandchild, walking into a room and forgetting why you are there, and starting a sentence and being unable to finish it. Many doctors do not talk about this and say you are merely having a senior moment.

New government standards could triple the number of people taking the drug. They do lower cholesterol but many doctors are waiting for more solid information on the side effects. It is also debated on what is the normal level of cholesterol in the elderly. Most doctors and the drug houses believe the benefits outweigh the risks and side effects. You must decide for yourself.

There are several types of cholesterol. They travel in the blood as ships (called lipoproteins). These lipoprotein ships or clusters carry cholesterol, triglycerides, proteins, and other compounds.

There are two kinds of ships: LDL and HDL. LDL is considered "bad" and HDL is considered "good." LDL cholesterol is usually high in fat and can be deposited on artery walls. On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is generated by aerobic activities and protects the body from heart disease.

LDL (low density lipoproteins) carry cholesterol from the liver to the body. It tends to stick to arteries and is called bad cholesterol. Monosaturated fats as olive oil can lower this bad cholesterol. HDL (high density lipoproteins) is called the good cholesterol. It removes LDL from the blood and takes it to the liver where it is destroyed.


Fats are the most concentrated forms of energy available to the body. Almost all fats found in a person's diet are triglycerides. Even though our diet is high in fat, we don't get enough EFA. Most of us get about 35% of our calories from fat, but most of it comes from meat and dairy products, which are low in EFA.

Many people consider fat a substance to be avoided at all costs. However, the body needs fat. Fat provides protection for some of the body's organs by holding them in place and cushions any impact.

Women usually have an extra layer of fat under their skin, which helps insulate body temperature. Fat also aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals in the small intestine.

In theory, when too few calories are eaten, the body should burn its stores of fat and weight loss should occur. However, the central nervous system can only burn carbohydrates. When carbohydrates are not available, the body turns to protein stored in muscles and organs. This in turn slows the metabolic rate.


Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dl), and total levels below 200mg/dl are considered normal. A ratio of four LDL to one HDL is considered normal. Higher ratios are considered a risk.

Three fat substitutes are often used by weight loss clinics. Olestra, Simplesse, and Z-trim have recently been developed which strive to give the flavor and texture of fat without the fat itself. Olestra has the texture of fat but is not absorbed in the body.

Unfortunately, side effects like abdominal cramping, loose bowel movements, and malabsorption of vitamins A, D, E and K are associated with Olestra.

Simplesse, unlike Olestra, is digestible. Only a fraction of its calories comes from fat. It is made of egg whites or milk and used in ice cream and condiments. It cannot be used for cooking.

Z-trim is created from the hulls of grains. It adds fiber to the diet as well as reducing the fat content. Z-trim is used for cooking. It is expected to be used in commercial food preparations more often than in home cooking.


Both omega 3 and omega 6 use the same enzymes, as they become long chained fatty acids and eicosanoids. They act however different in the body.

Omega 3 fats produce non-inflammatory chemicals and omega 6 makes inflammatory chemicals (eicosanoids). The ratio in primitive man was one to one.

Today the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is up to 1 to 25. Experts think we should have a ratio of 1 to 3.The reason for this high omega 6 is because we get more omega 6 from grains and vegetable oils.

Our meats are low in omega 3 because our animals live on corn and wheat instead of grazing and eating greens.


Diseases block the activity of key enzymes and nutrients, and prevent the absorption of EFA from the bowels. In Diabetes, there is a lack of insulin. This decreases the enzyme delta-6 desaturase, which results in a low production of EFA. High levels of stress produce cortisol and epinephrine that also reduce the saturase enzyme.

Stress also depletes the body's nutrients (zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and B) that help produce EFA. High ingestion of alcohol also results in a decrease of EFA in the brain and retina. It also damages the pancreas and blocks the production of lipase, which is needed by the body to absorb fatty acids. High cholesterol levels are linked to heart disease.

Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. Some products have fat blended in while others are essentially all fat like butter. Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature. They are usually extracted from seeds.

All fats in liquid form undergo oxidation with free radical formation. This also occurs in the supermarket where the fats may be stale or rancid. The shelves are also filled with processed fats (hydrogenated fats) and trans-fatty acids (TFA), which interfere with EFA metabolism. Acupuncture can mobilize transfatty acids, which then results in weight loss.

To make vegetable fats more stable and prevent them from becoming rancid, they are treated with hydrogenation. This results in destruction of EFA and creates trans-fatty acids (as in potato chips and snack foods). This breaks the double bond in the fatty acid chain and makes the liquid fat more solid.

Examples of this are margarine, vegetable oils and shortening. TFA results in high LDL levels and lowers the good cholesterol HDL. It also results in a low level of EFA.

In summary folks, EFA helps control inflammation throughout the entire body including blood vessels. It makes blood less "sticky, thus preventing blood clots in the heart and the brain.

The more EFA in your diet the lower the level of your triglycerides. Get more omega 3 fatty acids into your diet. Eat more fatty fish, such as salmon. Use olive oil abundantly.

Eventually there will be an official government recommendation to include more omega 3 in your diet. From what you have learned today why wait!

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