Essential Fatty Acids - Essential For Gains.

This is the third article in a series covering what I call the 'Foundation Supplements.' In this article we'll deal with the essential and some important non essential fatty acids. Learn more right here.

Increasingly over the past few decades research is showing that supplementing your diet with EFA's can keep you out of harms way, help deal with certain diseases, provide a foundation for optimal health, and improve body composition, and mental and physical performance.1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11

This is the third article in a series covering what I call the "Foundation Supplements:" vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and other ingredients that will not only optimize health and cover you for possible deficiencies, but also have significant effects on body composition and physical and mental performance.

These substances have definitive physiological effects, and in certain doses, usually much higher than the RDA, also have significant pharmacological effects that can impact on training intensity, recovery, injury prevention, muscle accretion, and fat loss.

In this article we'll deal with the essential and some important non essential fatty acids.


Dietary Fats

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, fats are 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.

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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.

While the human body can manufacture most of the fats it needs from other fats, carbohydrates and protein, including cholesterol, saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids, there are two groups of fatty acids, called essential fatty acids, based on linoleic acid (omega 6 group - which includes GLA) and 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.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that have biological functions because they are converted to a number of active substances in the body such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes and are involved in a number of metabolic events.

Linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid since it cannot be synthesized in the body. Other omega-3 fatty acids can, however, be synthesized from linolenic acid.

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are precursors for hormones and determine the composition of our cell membranes, influencing the production of pro- and anti-inflammatory substances.12

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oils (mainly EPA and DHA) and flaxseed oil, are useful in a wide variety of conditions:13 They have been shown to:

  • Reduce oxidant stress14 (oxidative stress or free radical damage is a factor of importance in the development of inflammatory events).
  • Suppress the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body and therefore influence inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and aging.15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27 28,29
  • Diabetes:

  • Improve serum lipids and provide cardiovascular protection.31,32,33,34,35
  • Provide protection against stress,36 cognitive aging37,38 and depression.39
  • Blood pressure, clotting, immune response, insulin resistance, and triglyceride levels are all positively affected by the omega-3s in EFA's.40
  • May be effective in the prevention of coronary heart disease,41,42 and headaches.43
  • Aid in weight and fat loss, especially when combined with CLA (see below).
  • Be positively associated with peak bone density in young men.44

While it's generally known that EFA's are good for the cardiovascular system and for arthritis, it's not as well known the EFA's can affect mental health. In fact, a deficiency in EFA's or too little omega 3 fatty acids can lead to decreased mental health, depression and even aggressive tendencies.

EFA's have been shown to assist in treating depression and other mental health conditions. Low levels of omega-3 EFA's are common in depression. In one 2002 study, researchers found that treatment with 1 g/d of EPA improved outcomes in patients with persistent depression.45 Another study found that EPA may prove an effective add-on treatment in schizophrenia.46


+ Click To Enlarge.
EFA's Have Been Shown To Assist In Treating
Depression And Other Mental Health Conditions.

There is even some evidence that the decrease in omega 3 consumption may be responsible for increasing homicide rates.47

Part of omega-3's effectiveness in treating brain disorders and the reason why lack of omega 3's results in some mental aberrations may be linked to its role in neurotransmission and brain development. DHA in particular is crucial for proper brain function, and pregnant women are advised to consume adequate levels for fetal brain development.

A recent paper published in 2005 concluded:48

There is no doubt that cerebral lipids, and EFA-derived LC-PUFAs in particular, have significant direct and indirect actions on cerebral function. Not only does the lipid composition of neural membranes affect the function of their embedded proteins, but also many LC-PUFAs are converted to neurally active substances.

There is good evidence that psychiatric illness is associated with depletion of EFA's and, crucially, that supplementation can result in clinical amelioration. As well as challenging traditional views of aetiology and therapeutics in psychiatry, the clinical trial data may herald a simple, safe and effective adjunct to our standard treatments for many disabling conditions.

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EFA's and Body Composition and Exercise Performance

Besides all the health benefits above, the EFA's may also be useful in improving body composition and exercise performance. They have been shown to affect insulin sensitivity and growth hormone secretion, have anti-catabolic effects, both enhance weight loss and help keep the weight off, and influence exercise performance.

Fish oil may, through perhaps more than one mechanism, have anti-catabolic properties. By extrapolating from burn injury studies, there is the possibility of modifying the catabolic processes secondary to training through the use of fish oil.49,50 There is the possibility that fish oil may modulate PGE sub 2-mediated muscle proteolysis.

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Studies have shown that the mechanism of interleukin-1 (IL-1)-induced muscle proteolysis involves PGE sub 2 synthesis.51 Thus it is likely that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil competitively inhibit the PGE sub 2 synthesis,52,53 resulting in less muscle proteolysis.

Furthermore, it has been shown that fish oil feeding in healthy volunteers can reduce the in vitro production of IL-1 and tumor necrosis factor by macrophages.54 Thus, the reduction of IL-1 level may represent another mechanism by which fish oil moderates muscle proteolysis.

Omega-3 fatty acids may increase growth hormone secretion since they are involved in the formation of prostaglandin E1, which in turn is involved in GH release.55 As well, to add to the possible benefits in improving exercise performance and body composition,

Several studies have shown that fish oil increases insulin sensitivity, the breakdown of body fat and the use of fat as a primary energy source. As such, besides decreasing inflammation and increasing cardiovascular health, they also provide substantial weight and fat loss benefits.

LNA, EPA, and DHA can enhance lipolysis (body fat breakdown)56,57 and decrease lipogenesis (body fat formation).58,59 The combined breakdown of stored body fat and decrease in additional body fat can have very positive results for the dieter. You actually end up making less and breaking down more body fat when using these oils.

As well, a recent study found that GLA reduced weight regain in humans following major weight loss, suggesting a role for essential fatty acids in fuel partitioning in humans prone to obesity.60

A recent study61 in horses found that n-3 fatty acids laced vitamin supplement induced changes in membrane composition, which modulated the decrease in erythrocyte membrane fluidity seen during exercise, and therefore found to be potentially beneficial in exercising horses.

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Gamma Linolenic Acid

Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is important for health and has suppressive effects on both acute and chronic inflammation, and effects on decreasing the response to anxiety and stress.62,63,64,65,66,67,68 It also works synergistically with some of the essential fatty acids to decrease inflammation and stress responses.69,70,71

GLA is needed by the body for the manufacture of certain hormone-like substances called Prostaglandins. These substances have beneficial regulatory effects on the immune system, circulation and the menstrual cycle. Their purpose is to help control and regulate cell growth and to maintain hormonal balance. Also helps to maintain healthy skin.

The use of EPA with GLA decreases some of the possible inflammatory effects of using GLA supplements. That's because GLA can be a precursor for arachidonic acid (AA, a "bad" type of prostaglandin that increases platelet aggregation and inflammation) and the addition of EPA reduces AA accumulation in some cells and tissues secondary to GLA supplementation.72

A recent study found that GLA reduced weight regain in humans following major weight loss, suggesting a role for essential fatty acids in fuel partitioning in humans prone to obesity.73

The bottom line is that the essential fatty acids have significant body composition effects, and increases overall health and well being.

Significant Body Composition Effects
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Significant Body Composition Effects.


Conjugated Linolenic Acid (CLA)

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a mixture of isomers of linoleic acid, which is found preferentially in dairy products, meat, and in cheese, milks and yogurt that have undergone heat treatment.

CLA has been shown to have properties above and beyond those of linoleic acid. It has shown potential as a powerful anticarcinogen74,75 and exhibits potent antioxidant activity.76 Studies have suggested that CLA may be cytotoxic to human cancer cells in vivo.77

CLA has a wide range of biological effects.78 It has potent antioxidant activity and has shown potential as an anticarcinogen. CLA has been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory properties79 and to inhibit inflammatory mediators such as PGE2, IL-6, and TNF-alpha,80,81 and also acts as a COX-2 inhibitor.82,83

Studies in animals and humans indicate that CLA supplementation decreases body fat and increases lean muscle mass. The increase in lean muscle mass is most pronounced in individuals who are exercising regularly.

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CLA appears to reduce the ability of fat cells to take up fats from the bloodstream; it also inhibits the formation of new fat cells. CLA also helps cells burn fat at a higher rate, while fueling and preserving muscle, leading to a reduction in fat and an increase in lean muscle mass.

Numerous physiological effects in relation to body-weight control have been attributed to CLA in animals. In different animal models, CLA has been shown to reduce body fat and to increase lean body mass.84,85 But CLA has marked effects in humans as well and has been found to decrease body fat mass and support muscle mass in overweight humans. 86,87,88,89

For example, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that those who were given CLA for a four week period had significant decreases in abdominal fat.90

As well, a recent study concluded that long term CLA supplementation not only helps to decrease body fat but also helps to maintain weight loss in the long term. A recent long term study found that a mixture of the two CLA isomers significantly lowered body fat mass in overweight humans at both 1 and 2 years.91,92 It likely does this by affecting various enzymes involved in lipid formation and to a lesser extent enhancing fat breakdown.93,94,95

As well, CLA seems to have significant effects on weight regain, as it reduces fat uptake into adipocytes by decreasing the formation of fat and but not affecting fat breakdown. It likely does this by affecting various enzymes involved in lipid formation rather than enhancing fat breakdown, known as lipolysis.96,97,98

Thus there is an overall increase in fat breakdown since the two processes are usually in dynamic equilibrium with as much fat being produced as is broken down. Decreasing fat formation changes the dynamics to one of overall increased fat breakdown and subsequently a decrease in overall body fat.


+ Click To Enlarge.
CLA Seems To Have Significant
Effects On Weight Regain.

Of equal importance, for those wishing to maximize lean body mass, is the possible anti-catabolic effects of CLA.99,100

The most recent study in a series of studies of the effects of CLA confirmed and expanded on the findings of the previous studies: CLA reduces BFM in specific regions of the body, especially the abdominal area in both men and women, and maintains or increases lean body mass.101

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Conclusion

The bottom line is that essential and certain other types of fatty acids can have significant effects on health, training, recovery, muscle accretion and fat loss.

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