EFA’s

(essential fatty acids)

Macronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are “good fats” that are essential to every cell in

our bodies and play a critical role in immune, cardiovascular, and nerve function. They are called essential because our bodies cannot produce them, and therefore, we must get them from the food we eat or from supplementation. Unfortunately, the food we eat is oftentimes not enough to supply the required amount of EFA’s, as they’re routinely processed out of most foods.

Other names for EFAs

essential fatty acids, Vitamin F, polyunsaturates

Where to find EFAs

The omega-3 family of fatty acids comes from dark leafy greens, walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and cold water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, halibut, and sardines.
The omega-6 family comes primarily from vegetable oils, such as safflower, soybean, and corn.
Note All EFA’s deteriorate rapidly when exposed to light, heat, air, and metals.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use EFAs

Because there is such a high percentage of dietary deficiencies in “good fats,” active people often use EFA supplements to fill the nutritional gaps and support optimal health and performance. EFA’s are seldom used because they are so misunderstood. But surprising to most is, they’ve been shown to decrease muscle breakdown, decrease inflammation, increase muscle growth, speed recovery time, support optimal hormone secretion, support healthy joints and connective tissue, and are now fast becoming widely used not only by athletes but those seeking life enhancement as well.

Ways that EFAs can enhance Muscle Gain & Recovery:

Support healthy joints and connective tissue by reducing inflammation and keeping tissues lubricated

Ways that EFAs can enhance Mental Functioning:

Support mental functioning by aiding nerve impulse transmission

Ways that EFAs can enhance Longevity:

Enhance cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of EFAs deficiency

Deficiency of EFAs has been linked to:

  • Fatigue/Weakness
  • Dry skin
  • Impaired immune function
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Circulatory complications
  • Retarded growth
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Sterility
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Gallstones
  • Impaired healing of wounds
  • Diabetes
Potential uses for EFAs

Research indicates that EFAs may also be useful in the treatment of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Arthritis
  • Skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Skin allergies
  • Prostatitis
  • Asthma
  • Menstrual pain
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

DISCUSSION

More about EFAs

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are “good fats” that play a critical role in thousands of chemical reactions within our bodies. They are called essential because our bodies cannot produce them, and therefore, we must get them from the food we eat or from supplementation. Every cell in our bodies needs

EFA’s.

Unfortunately, EFA’s are routinely processed out of most foods. And to make matters worse, unnatural oils, such as unhealthy trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated oils are added back in to take their place.

How do EFA’s work?

Omega-3 and omega-6 EFA’s work together in a kind of balancing act to regulate prostaglandins, which are vital hormone-like substances that support many of the major systems in our bodies, including our immune, cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems. Prostaglandins are essential to hormone synthesis, immune functioning, our bodies response to pain and inflammation, and more.

EFA’s also help construct the membranes in every cell of our bodies, protecting them from harmful invaders and contributing to their structural integrity. But when a diet is out of balance and the majority of fats consumed are “bad,” these membranes are much less elastic, and their functions are disrupted, which leads to a disruption of virtually all cellular processes, causing cell injury and eventually death.
Ultimately, EFA’s are involved in energy production, transporting oxygen to the blood, growth, cell division, nerve functioning, cell-to-cell communication, and hormone regulation. (And this is just the short list.)

Performance benefits

EFA’s appear to support athletic performance in a number of ways. They may decrease muscle breakdown, increase muscle growth, decrease the time it takes for muscles to recover after exercise, support hormone secretion, aid in the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream, and enhance a number of metabolic functions. They may also help keep the skin and joints healthy through their lubricating properties and anti-inflammatory effects.

Other health benefits

In addition to their performance-enhancing abilities, hundreds of studies indicate omega-3 EFA’s may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and significantly reduce the risk of developing heart or cardiovascular disease. Autopsy studies show that the highest level of coronary artery disease occurs in people with the lowest levels of omega-3 EFA’s in their body tissue.
Studies have also shown essential fatty acids may keep the blood moving through our bodies, both by thinning the blood and improving the flexibility of our arteries. This effect may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as lower high blood pressure. EFA’s also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Last but certainly not least, EFA’s are essential to optimal brain functioning. Necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses, EFA’s have been shown to help improve learning and memory.

Deficiency issues

Although most people are at the greatest risk for omega-3 deficiencies, certain groups, such as seniors and people on low-fat diets, are also at increased risk for omega-6 deficiencies. If you’re wondering whether an EFA supplement is for you, consider this: surveys indicate that the typical American diet is up to 90% deficient in EFA’s, especially from the omega-3 family.

In conclusion

Diet can play a key role in correcting EFA deficiencies. However, it’s important to keep in mind that certain factors decrease your body’s ability to use EFA’s found in foods, such as diets high in processed vegetable oils, sugar, and alcohol; certain vitamin deficiencies; and high cholesterol levels. That’s why so many people are turning to EFA supplements to fill in the nutritional gaps.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Some experts recommend two to nine grams (one to two teaspoons) of omega-3’s. From three to six grams (one teaspoon) per day of omega-6 is recommended to prevent deficiencies, and 9 to 18 grams per day to support optimal health and performance.
Other experts suggest that EFA’s should make up 10% to 20% of the total amount of calories consumed.

Timing

EFA’s are best taken with or as part of meals.

Synergists of EFAs

No synergists have been noted.

Toxicity of EFAs

No known toxicity.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Alexander, J.W., “Immunonutrition: The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” Nutrition 14.7-8 (1998) : 627-33.
  • Anderson, G.J., and Connor, W.E., “On the Demonstration of Omega-3 Essential-Fatty-Acid Deficiency in Humans (editorial),” Am J Clin Nutr,” 49.4 (1989) : 585-7.
  • Brilla, L.R., and Landerholm, T.E., “Effect of Fish Oil Supplementation and Exercise on Serum Lipids and Aerobic Fitness,” J Sports Med Phys Fitness 30.2 (1990) : 173-80.
  • Horrobin, D.F., “The Importance of Gamma-Linolenic Acid and Prostaglandin E1 in Human Nutrition and Medicine,” J Holistic Med 3 (1981) : 118-39.
  • Meyer, F., et al., “Dietary Fat and Prostate Cancer Survival,” Cancer Causes Control 10.4 (1999) : 245-51.
  • Mansel, R.E., et al., “Effects of Essential Fatty Acids on Cyclical Mastalgia and Noncyclical Breast Disorders,” In Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids: Pathophysiology and Roles in Clinical Medicine, ed. D.F. Horrobin (New York: Alan R Liss, 1990) : 557-66.
  • Prisco, D., et al., “Effect of Medium-Term Supplementation with a Moderate Dose of n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Blood Pressure in Mild Hypertensive Patients,” Thromb Res 91.3 (1998) : 105-12.
  • Sargent, J.R., “Fish Oils and Human Diet,” Br J Nutr 78.S1 (1997) : S5-13.
  • Schmidt, E.B., and Dyerberg, J., “Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Current Status in Cardiovascular Medicine,” Drugs 47.3 (1994) :405-24.
  • Yehuda, S., “Essential Fatty Acids Are Mediators of Brain Biochemistry and Cognitive Functions,” J Neurosci Res 56.6 (1999) : 565-70.