Fatty acids, essential fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, Linoleic acid (LA), Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) and prostaglandins. If these “buzz” words leave your head swimming you’re not alone. After the Food & Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization released a joint report addressing the role of dietary fats and oils in nutrition, much attention has been given the role these play in our health. The study recommended that at least 3% of our daily calorie intake should be in the form of these “essential fatty acids” (EFA), 5% for children and pregnant/lactating mothers.
What are essential fatty acids and what makes them so essential? EFA’s play important roles in our body‘s overall health. They are part of every cell and establish and control the cellular metabolism.
EFA’s are essential in four primary body functions:
- provide energy
- maintain body temperature
- insulate our nerves
- cushion and protect body tissues
Two key polyunsaturated fatty acids (EFA’s) are Linoleic acid and Gamma-Linolenic acid. LA is not produced by the body but must be obtained through the dietary intake. LA acts as an energy source and is what the body converts to GLA which in turn forms other substances such as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that are found in every body cell. They are critical to the body’s overall health maintenance, but need to be replenished constantly as once they serve their purpose, they are destroyed.
The purposes of Prostaglandins include lowering blood pressure, reducing risks of blood clotting, stimulating the immune system, and regulating brain function. Animal studies at the University of Pennsylvania have also shown them to prevent arthritis. This is also being studied in humans trials in Europe with similar results. The source of EFA’s in these studies has been Evening Primrose Oil.
It was once believed that our diet would provide enough EFA’s but due to processing methods, the LA’s structure is changed ( then called trans fatty acids). These fatty acids actually block the normal conversion process. Our western lifestyle–too much saturated fat and cholesterol, processed vegetable oils, and alcohol–also inhibits the normal conversion processes. These blockages become even more dramatic with age, low thyroid function, slower metabolism, infections, disease, and dietary considerations such as zinc deficiency.