Dietary fats are essential for normal metabolism and good health.
Not only are they necessary for the proper absorption, transportation and function of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, but fats are also used by the body to produce cellular components, hormones and other compounds that are essential to the proper functioning of the body.
As well, a moderate intake of fat is essential for maximizing body composition and decreasing body fat.
But while all fats, including saturated fatty acids, have an important role in energy metabolism and body functions, the most important fats are the essential fatty acids (EFA's) since the body needs them to survive.
However, there are two groups of fatty acids, called essential fatty acids - one based on linoleic acid (omega 6 group - which includes CLA and GLA), and the other based on alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3 group which includes EPA and DHA) - which cannot be manufactured in the body.
The body cannot make an omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acid because human metabolism cannot add a double-bond to a fatty acid that is more than 9 carbons away from the delta end. For the same reason, the body cannot interconvert omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, many people are EFA-challenged.
Why are EFA's, especially the omega-3's, deficient in modern diets? Part of the problem is that the food that's given to livestock and poultry. It's a lot different from the natural food that these animals would normally consume in the wild or even in the past.
So, while both omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid) are plentiful in the leafy plants consumed by roaming animals, providing nearly equal ratios of these EFA's, that's no longer the case when they're switched from grass to grains.
The result is that the fat in wild game and grazing ruminant contains roughly seven times more omega-3 fatty acids than animals raised for commercial meat.
Another reason is that processing or cooking changes healthy EFA's into unhealthy trans-fatty acids. So the meat and eggs that we consume today that's already low in omega-3's is even more depleted once it reaches our tables.
As well, we consume a lot of vegetable oils, most of which are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and poor in the omega-3's.
The increased omega-6/omega-3 ratio common to our modern diets, but not to man during most of his existence, can give rise to disturbances in cellular structure and function, and an increase in systemic inflammation, which can lead to dysfunction and disease.
So although you can get the EFA's you need from food, you have to know what you're doing and what you're eating (and perhaps more importantly what you're eating was eating), and even then, although you're trying to eat right, you likely will still need to supplement your diet with some of the essential fatty acids.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3's like alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) and eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (known as EPA and DHA respectively) increase fatty acid oxidation (burning of fat), basal metabolic rates (BMR), and lower cholesterol.
| What Does BMR Stand For?
Base (or Basil) Metabolic Rate. This is the number of calories you would expend if you did zero activity all day.
Omega-3 fatty acids also provide an anabolic effect by increasing the binding of IGF-1 to skeletal muscle and improving insulin sensitivity, even on diets high in fat which have a tendency to decrease insulin sensitivity. As well, fish oils may also have important implications for women prone to osteoporosis since they appear to decrease calcium excretion.
| What Does Anabolic Mean?
Anabolic refers to the metabolic process that is characterized by molecular growth, such as the increase of muscle mass. Thus, it means "muscle-building" in most common bodybuilding contexts.
| What Is IGF-1?
IGF-1 is a protein hormone similar in molecular structure to insulin. IGF-1 plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.
IGF-1 is produced by the liver upon stimulation by HGH (human growth hormone), and stimulates and regulates cell growth and multiplication in bones, cartilage, and nerve cells, among other things.
Omega-3's also stimulate prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are chemical messengers that regulate activity in body cells on a moment-to-moment basis and are involved in critical functions like blood pressure regulation, insulin sensitivity, immune system and anti-inflammatory responses. They're also involved in a myriad of other functions, many of which have yet to be fully identified.
If you have a problem producing prostaglandins or experience an imbalance between the different kinds of prostaglandins, overall health can be affected. EFA deficiency can lead to many problems including cardiovascular, hormonal, neurological, musculoskeletal, and immune dysfunction.
| What Are Prostaglandins?
Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds produced in body tissue that help control blood pressure, smooth muscle activity, inflammation, glandular secretion, calcium movement, hormone regulation, and cell growth control.
Prostaglandins also control the substances involved in the transmission of nerve impulses, participate in the body's defenses against infection, and regulate the rate of metabolism.
The Secrets of EFA's:
How The Omegas Work
Alpha linolenic acid is the principal essential fatty acid in the omega-3 family and linoleic acid takes the lead in the omega-6 series. In a healthy body with sound nutrition, various metabolic conversions take place transferring the raw dietary materials into usable, biologically potent EFA's and other compounds.
Alpha linolenic acid is transformed into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and later into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The series three prostaglandins are formed from EPA. As well, EPA reduces the production of the bad prostaglandins from arachidonic acid.
The omega-6 linolenic acid converts to gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Both the EPA and the GLA synthesized from dietary sources undergo another conversion, resulting in hormone - like biochemical compounds know as eicosanoids.
These substances aid in virtually every body activity, from vital organ functioning down to intracellular processes, including helping to regulate inflammation and blood pressure as well as heart, gastrointestinal, and kidney functions.
As such, their use can be preventative and therapeutic for various conditions including some types of cancer, and cardiovascular, neurological and musculoskeletal diseases. Because of their anti-inflammatory properties they are effective anti-aging nutrients. As well, they can be used as an aid for weight loss and for improving body composition.
Benefits of EFA's
As far as the essential fatty acids, some products consist largely of the omega-3 family of essential fatty acids, so as to even out the omega 6/omega 3 ratio to one that is closer to the ratio that man has consumed for most of his existence. Bringing the ratio into line enhances cellular function, decreases inflammation, and improves body composition, health and well-being.
Some of these products contain pharmaceutical grade fish oil with higher levels of EPA and DHA. It's important to include these longer carbon chain omega 3's for two reasons.
First of all as first of all the formation of EPA and DHA from LNA is limited and secondly while fish is one method of getting these oils, most sources recommend that fish consumption be limited to two to three servings weekly because so many fish are tainted with mercury, PCBs and other contaminants.
High-quality, purified fish oil, as found in in some EFA products are contaminant-free and present a viable alternative to frequent consumption of fish.
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- Liu S, Baracos VE, Quinney HA, Clandinin MT. Dietary omega-3 and polyunsaturated fatty acids modify fatty acyl composition and insulin binding in skeletal-muscle sarcolemma. Biochemical Journal 1994; 299 (Pt 3):831-837.
- Kruger MC. Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation increases calcium balance. Nutrition Research 1995; 15; 211-219.