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.
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.
- Support healthy joints and connective tissue by reducing inflammation and keeping tissues lubricated
- Support mental functioning by aiding nerve impulse transmission
Ways that EFAs can enhance Longevity:
- Enhance cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Signs of EFAs deficiency
Deficiency of EFAs has been linked to:
Potential uses for EFAs
Research indicates that EFAs may also be useful in the treatment of:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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