More about Linolenic Acid
Linolenic acid (sometimes called omega-3) is the most important essential fatty acid (EFA) for humans. It is considered essential because our bodies can't produce it, and we must have it to live. The only way to get linolenic acid is through diet or through supplementation.
Why is it important?
Linolenic acid is converted into three substances in the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); eicosapentenoic acid (EPA); and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Linolenic acid found in fish oil is converted into EPA and DHA (linolenic acid from flaxseed is also converted but to a lesser extent). These essential fatty acids are needed to make a family of hormones called "eicosanoids," which are essential for normal brain functioning and are also involved in regulating blood pressure and immune response.
EPA and DHA have been shown in research to dramatically decrease triglyceride levels and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. In a more recent study, it's also been shown to improve the elasticity of arteries, which may help lower blood pressure. Researchers also have found that DHA influences mood because it is the major EFA in the central nervous system. In fact, studies have found that people with low levels of DHA tend to have higher levels of depression.
Linolenic acid also regulates prostaglandins, vital hormone-like substances that support many of the major systems in our bodies, including immune, cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive.
In addition to its potential heart benefits, linolenic acid may support athletic performance in a number of ways. It may substantially shorten the time it takes muscles to recover following exercise because it facilitates the conversion of lactic acid to water and carbon dioxide.
Studies also show it may decrease muscle breakdown, increase muscle growth, aid in the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream, and enhance a wide range of metabolic and hormonal functions.
Male athletes on extremely low-fat diets may also benefit significantly from essential fatty acid supplements. Studies have drawn a close correlation between diets low in omega-3's and decreased testosterone production. One study found individuals with a 36% dietary fat intake compared to individuals with a 7% fat intake had an average of 22% higher testosterone levels.
Because testosterone plays such a key role in building muscle size and strength, athletes on fat-deprived diets may be compromising their muscle development. But keep in mind, we're talking about unsaturated essential fatty acids, not unhealthful saturated fats found in so much of the American diet.
Protecting cells for greater health
This essential fatty acid also helps construct the membranes in every cell in our bodies, protecting them from harmful invaders and contributing to their structural integrity. For this reason, an essential fatty acid supplement that contains linolenic acid is often recommended for people who suffer from painful joint conditions, including arthritis.
Essential for everyone
Because linolenic acid is required for thousands of biochemical reactions throughout our bodies, it is one of the most beneficial of all supplements. Diet can play a key role in correcting linolenic deficiencies. But, a number of factors decrease our bodies' ability to use linolenic acid from foods, such as diets high in processed vegetable oils, sugar, and alcohol. Certain vitamin deficiencies and high cholesterol levels can also interfere with our bodies' ability to make the most of linoleic acid.
What's more, these healthful fats are routinely processed out of most foods and unnatural oils, such as unhealthy trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated oils, are added back in to take their place.
With all the talk about Americans consuming too much fat, it may seem unlikely that we could suffer from a deficiency, but that is indeed the case. Too many of us simply don't get enough of the "good fats," such as linolenic acid. The solution? Cut down on the artery-clogging saturated fats found in burgers and fries and include a high-quality essential fatty acid supplement rich in linolenic acid in your daily routine to fill in the nutritional gaps.