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Frequently Asked Questions HOL-emblem1-web.GIF (3556 bytes)

25. What are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAS)?

According to Dr. Michael Murray, author of "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine," fatty acids are the basic building blocks of which fats and oils are composed. Contrary to popular myth, the body does need fat. It must be the right kind, however.

The fatty acids that are necessary for health and that cannot be made by the body are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are occasionally also referred to as vitamin F or polyunsaturates. EFAs must be supplied through the diet.

Essential fatty acids have desirable effects on many disorders. They improve the skin and hair, reduce blood pressure, aid in the prevention of arthritis, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and reduce the risk of blood clot formation. They are beneficial for candidiasis, cardiovascular disease, eczema, and psoriasis. Found in high concentrations in the brain, EFAs aid in the transmission of nerve impulses and are needed for the normal development and functioning of the brain. A deficiency of essential fatty acids can lead to an impaired ability to learn and recall information.

Every living cell in the body needs essential fatty acids. They are essential for rebuilding and producing new cells. Essential fatty acids are also used by the body for the production of Prostaglandins, hormonelike substances that act as chemical messengers and regulators of various body processes.

There are two basic categories of essential fatty acids, designated omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-6 EFAS, which include linoleic and gamma-linolenic acids, are found primarily in raw nuts, seeds, and legumes, and in unsaturated vegetable oils, such as borage oil, grape seed oil, primrose oil, sesame oil, and soybean oil. Omega-3 EFAS, including alpha-linolenic and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are found in fresh deepwater fish, fish oil, and certain vegetable oils, among them canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil. In order to supply essential fatty acids, these oils must be consumed in pure liquid or supplement form and must not be subjected to heat, either in processing or cooking. Heat destroys essential fatty acids. Worse, it results in the creation of dangerous free radicals. If oils are hydrogenated (processed to make the oil more solid, as is commonly done in the production of margarine), the linoleicacid is converted into trans-fatty acids, which are not beneficial to the body.

The daily requirement for essential fatty acids is satisfied by an amount equivalent to 10 to 20 percent of total caloric intake. The most essential of the essential fatty acids is linoleic acid.

There are a number of sources of essential fatty acids. Among them are fish oils, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, grape seed oil, and primrose oil.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Salmon, mackerel, menhaden, heffing, and sardines are good sources of fish oil because they have a higher fat content and provide more omega-3 factors than other fishes. For instance, 4 ounces of salmon contains up to 3,600 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, while 4 ounces of cod (a low-fat fish) contains only 300 milligrams.

People with diabetes should not take fish oil supplements because of the high fat content, but they should consume fish for its essential fatty acids.

Flaxseeds and Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. They are also a good source of the B vitamins, protein, and zinc. They are low in saturated fats and calories, and contain no cholesterol. The nutty taste of ground flaxseeds is pleasant, and they can be mixed with water or any fruit or vegetable juice. They can also be added to salads, soups, yogurt, cereals, baked goods, or fresh juices. You can grind these tiny seeds in a coffee grinder.

If you prefer not to eat the seeds, you can use flaxseed oil as an alternative. Like the seeds from which it is extracted, organic cold-pressed flaxseed oil is rich in essential fatty acids. Several studies have shown that it can reduce the pain, inflammation, and swelling of arthritis. It also has been found to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and to help reduce the hardening effects of cholesterol on cell membranes.

Grape Seed Oil

Of the many natural sources of essential fatty acids, grape seed oil is among the highest in linoleic acid and among thelowestinsaturatedfats. Itcontainsnotrans-fattyacids, no cholesterol, and no sodium. It has a light, nutty taste that brings out the flavor in many foods. Unlike most other oils, it can be heated to temperatures as high as 485OF without producing dangerous and possibly carcinogenic free radicals. These features make it good for use in cooking. Buy only grape seed oil that is cold-pressed and contains no preservatives, such as Salute Sant6 Grapeseed Oil from Lifestar International.

Primrose Oil

Primrose oil (also known as evening primrose oil) contains the highest amount of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) of any food substance. This fatty acid is known to help prevent hardening of the arteries, heart disease, premenstrual syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and high blood pressure. It relieves pain and inflammation; enhances the release of sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone; aids in lowering cholesterol levels; and is beneficial for cirrhosis of the liver.

Many women have found that primrose oil supplements relieve unpleasant menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Because it promotes the production of estrogen, women suffering from breast cancer that is estrogen related should avoid or limit their intake of primrose oil. Black currant seed oil is a good substitute.

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