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Essential Fatty Acid (EFA)

Linoleic acid (LA)

Alpha-linolenic acid (LNA)

Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA),

Dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA)

Special Properties Of EFAs

While EFAs are like vitamins in their essentiality, they differ in other respects. Vitamins are required in small amounts (mg/day). EFAs are macronutrients, necessary in grams/day.

A second difference is that EFAs are perishable, deteriorating rapidly when exposed to light, air, heat and metals. Unlike vitamins, EFAs cannot be dried, powdered, and stored for several years. EFA sensitivity makes careful processing and freshness extremely important.

Omega 6 And Omega 3 EFAs

Many lay references and college texts on nutrition suggest three EFAs: linoleic, linolenic, and arachidonic acids. This outdated information is wrong. Two fatty acids are essential to human health. (Fish require only one fatty acid and plants require neither—they make EFAs.)

The first is the omega 6 EFA, which is called linoleic acid (LA). LA is abundant in polyunsaturated safflower, sunflower, and corn oils. The second, known as the omega 3 EFA, is called alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). Sometimes referred to as super-unsaturated, LNA is found abundantly in flex and hemp seeds.

LA and its derivatives belong to the omega 6 family of polyunsaturates. In addition to linoleic acid (LA), this family includes gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), and arachidonic acid (AA).

If LA is provided by foods, our cells make GLA, DGLA, and AA. Bad fats (margarines, shortenings, trans-fatty acids, hard fats, sugar and cholesterol), lack of minerals (magnesium, selenium, zinc) and vitamins (B3, B6, C, E), viruses, obesity, diabetes, aging, and rare genetic mutations can all inhibit omega 6 conversion. In such situations, an oil containing omega 6 derivatives can help. GLA is present in evening primrose, borage, and black currant seed. DGLA is found in mother’s milk. AA is found in meats, eggs, and dairy products.

LNA and its derivatives belong to an omega 3 family of superunstaurates. Besides alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), this family includes stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). If LNA is provided by foods, our cells make SDA, EPA and DHA. When the conversion of EFAs to their derivatives is inhibited by the factors listed above, DHA from black currant seed oil, or EPA and DHA from fish oils and northern ocean algae can be given.

Properties Of EFAs

The value of LA and LNA to health results from their chemical properties. EFAs react with oxygen (EFA-rich oils—flax, hemp, safflower—were traditionally used in paints because they oxidize, dry and harden quickly when exposed to air). When fresh, these oils are valuable human foods. EFAs absorb sunlight, increasing their ability to react with oxygen by about 1000-fold and making them very active chemically.

EFA molecules carry slight negative charges that cause them to repel one another. They spread out in all directions. This property enables EFAs to carry oil-soluble toxins from deep within the body to the skin surface for eliminations. EFAs form associations with sulfhydryl group (cysteine) in proteins, important in reactions that make possible the one-way movement of electrons and energy on which life depends. EFAs store electric charges that produce bio-electric currents important for nerve, muscle, and cell membrane functions, and the transmission of messages.

EFA Functions

As structural components of membranes, EFAs help form a barrier that keeps foreign molecules, viruses, yeasts, fungi, and bacteria outside of cells, and keeps the cell’s proteins, enzymes, genetic material, and organelles (small organs) inside. They also help regulate the traffic of substances in and out of our cells via protein channels, pumps, and other mechanisms.