Essential Fatty Acids , (EFAs) are fatty acids that researchers now regard to be as vital to human health as vitamins and minerals. Reflecting this new perspective, many nutritionists now refer to this class of polyunsaturates as Vitamin K, and commonly recommend EFAs for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. EFAs may also play an important role in reducing the risks of heart disease and strokes.
EFAs are major components of all cell membranes, and without adequate levels of EFAs, cellular membranes become stiff and loss their ability for function properly. EFAs are found in particularly high concentrations in the brain where they support the transmissions of nerve impulses. Researchers have documented the importance of EFAs in brain functions, and have found that a deficiency of essential fatty acids rapidly leads to an impairment in ones ability to learn and recall information.
One of the most important functions of essential fatty acids can be found in a process called the Prostaglandin Cascade. Prostaglandins (PGE1 & PGE2) are vital biochemicals that regulate a number of important body processes such as blood pressure and heart and muscle contractions. Prostaglandin production begins when a gland secretes a chemical message in the form of hormones that are released into the bloodstream. After traveling through the body and arriving at the intended cells, these hormones then attach themselves to the outer cellular membranes of the target cells.
Rather than entering the intended cell directly, once attached to a cell, hormones initiate the formation of prostaglandins from fatty acids extracted from the outer cellular membrane. It is these prostaglandins that then enter the cell to begin to direct intracellular activity. In this manner prostaglandins affect cells by directing them to carry out the instructions of the gland releasing the original hormone messenger molecules.
This process occurs in a fraction of a second, and immediately after the prostaglandins have delivered the message they are destroyed. The continual extraction and destruction of fatty acids from the outer cell membranes puts a demand on the body to constantly replenish its supplies of the essential fatty acids. If this process is blocked by a shortage of essential fatty acids, prostaglandin production is impaired, leading to health problems.
LINOLEIC ACID The most important Essential Fatty Acid is Linoleic Acid which is used in the synthesis of other essential fatty acids such as Gamma Linolenic Acid. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturate which can be obtained from dietary sources such as seeds, oils, vegetables and grains. Unfortunately many dietary and lifestyle factors can seriously reduce the body’s ability to properly utilize linoleic acid for the synthesis into other EFAs.
A deficiency of linoleic acid can produce a form of dermatitis characterized by red, dry, scaly skin that resembles eczema. The blotchy areas appear first on the face, clustered near the oil-secreting glands, and in the folds of the nose, lips, forehead, eyes and cheeks. Dry, rough areas also appear on the forearms, thighs and buttocks.
GAMMA LINOLENIC ACID Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) is part of the Omega 6 series of essential fatty acids and is a precursor to Series 1 prostaglandins (PGE1) and other hormones in the body. GLA is a key regulator of T-lymphocyte function in the immune system and is involved in cell metabolism and growth. GLA can also help relieve the symptoms of PMS.
Although a healthy body can make GLA from dietary Linoleic Acid (the most common fatty acid found in foods), its production can be blocked by a variety of factors. Conversion of linoleic acid to GLA can be impaired if the body is deficient in zinc, magnesium and vitamins C, B-6, B-3 and A. Conversion can also be blocked if ones diet is high in fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils and margarine. GLA is frequently deficient in people with Eczema, Atherosclerosis and Diabetes Mellitus.
Good sources of pre-formed GLA include Black Current Oil, Borage Oil and Evening Primrose Oil.