Open Future HealthThe Role of Essential Fatty Acids in Your Body

Both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential for human health.

They are important components of cell membranes and are precursors to many other substances in the body, such as those involved with regulating blood pressure and inflammatory responses.

The Role of Essential Fatty Acids in Your Body

Essential for Biological Processes

The human body is capable of producing most of the fatty acids it needs, except for linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fatty acid.

These therefore have to be obtained from the diet and are considered "essential fatty acids" (EFAs).

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals.

Alpha-linoleic acid has a specific role in maintaining the skin water-permeability barrier.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution

The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats). These are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food.

However, as conversion to the omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is limited, it is recommended that sources of these specific fats are also included in the diet. Foods and oils containing EFAs include oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil and borage oil.

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids

Research suggests the "typical" Western diet currently contains 14 to 25 times more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids and this is a major problem.

Omega-3 fats lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve blood vessel function, and, at higher doses, lower triglycerides and may ease inflammation, which plays a role in the development of atherosclerosis.

A balanced diet needs to contain both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, whereas omega 6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.

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