What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
By Dr. Joshua David, ND
Omega-3 fatty acids, which we read and hear the most about, are considered essential fatty acids. What makes them essential? They are necessary for human health as they play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. They also have become popular because they may reduce the risk of heart disease. The challenge with Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, is the human body does not make them. The only way to get Omega-3 fatty acids into your body is to eat them. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish such as salmon, tuna, and halibut, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, and nut oils. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon) at least twice a week.
Research shows Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for brain memory and performance and behavioral function. In fact, infants who do not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids from their mother during pregnancy are at risk for developing vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression and poor circulation. Other ailments that may be helped by taking Omega-3 fatty acids are diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoporosis, depression, ADHD, skin disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and menstrual pain. Studies also suggest consuming an adequate amount of Omega-3 fatty acids seems to reduce the risk of colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer.
Just as important as eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids is getting the proper ratio of Omega-3s to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Unlike their cousins Omega-3, most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation – the opposite of a healthy state. The American diet tends to contain 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3 fatty acids, which many nutritionally oriented physicians consider too high on the omega-6 side.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, has a healthier balance between Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Many studies have shown that people who follow this diet are less likely to develop heart disease. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, garlic, as well as moderate wine consumption.
There are two main types of Omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – both of which can be taken in the form of fish oil capsules. Ask a knowledgeable health care provider what dose and which supplement are right for you. When buying fish oil capsules be sure to look for Omega-3 fatty acid supplements made by established companies that certify their products are free of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. The only quality fish oil supplements available are molecularly distilled/pharmaceutical grade; those are third party tested regularly for quality control. Consumers must be wary of any fish oil on the market as purity and consistency can vary widely.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, only take dietary supplements under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Omega-3 fatty acids should be used cautiously by people who bruise easily, have a bleeding disorder, or take blood thinning medications including warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin. High doses of Omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of bleeding, even in people without a history of bleeding disorder and even in those who are not taking other medications.
For more information regarding Omega-3 fatty acids, EFAs, and DHAs contact Dr. David and his staff at Rise2Health.
Dr. Josuha David, N.D. is a Primary Care Physician who treats a variety of medical conditions. He specializes in Accident Recovery using such progressive therapies as Prolo therapy. His goal is to have his accident patients back to pre-accident health status as soon as possible. He is a leader in the field of Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement therapies, having studied under some of the leading names in the country. www.rise2health.com; 503-286-4400