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The Essential EFAs

A Feel 21 Health Report

Essential Fatty Acids, known also as EFAs or the good fats, have made a contribution in this industry that continues to grow on an almost daily basis. Omega-3s - the most recognizeable family of EPAs - have been linked with aiding cardiovascular, brain and joint health, to name a few. They've been fortified in everything from milk and orange juice to frozen dinner entrees and ice cream, and are likely to become even more of a presence in the everyday foods we eat.

EPAs are separated into two families - omega-3 and omega-6 and are considered essential because they must be obtained through the diet and cannot be synthesized by the body. For this reason omega-9 is not considered essential, since the body does produce modest amounts.

Fats like EFAs are crucial because they provide major fuel for energy. Dr Herb Joiner-Bey, ND and scientific consultant for Barlean's Organic Oils (Ferndale WA), explained the separation between EFAs and other common fats, saying that although many different kinds of fats can be used as energy sources, certain specific fatty acids are needed for ideal structural integrity of membranes and of those only a few can be used by the body to make local hormones like EFAs.

A dynamic balance between omega-3 and omega-6 intake is believed to be important for optimal health. "Each tissue manufactures its own special kinds of local hormones based on its unique physiologic functions and needs," said Joiner-Bey. "The situation-appropriate balance between {EPAs} supports tissue well-being throughout the body."

A higher omega-3 consumption is recommended, since excess consumption of omega-6 which can be found in hydrogenated vegitable oils, grain-fed livestock and certain processed foods - has the tendency to increase blood pressure and produce chronic inflammation. Good sources of omega-3s include seafood like salmon, as well as grass fed beef and vegetarian sources like flax and chia seeds.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Parris M. Kidd, PhD, wrote about the benefits of DHA "Growing membrane must be relatively fluid, and DHA is the most fluidizing element in the cell membranes. Even the synapes that are the primary functional units of brain circuits are made from membranes preferentially enriched in DHA."

Supplementation of both DHA and EPA has been linked to a reduction of coronary heart disease (CHD) among healthy adults. Meta-analysis of six epidemiologic studies showed a significant dose-response relationship between risk for CHD dealth and intake, with relative risk reductions of 37 percent average for EPA and DHA intake of 566mg per day.

A 2005 open-label trial showed a very positive correlation between EPA consuption and bipolar disorder. At 1.5-2.0g/day of EPA for up to six months, eight out of the 10 patients improved at least 50 percent in the depression scale. According to Kidd, "The greater the seafood consuption per capita in a country, the lower the prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorders."


  • Kidd, Parris M. "Omega-3 DHA and EPA for Cognition, Behavior and Mood: Clinical Findings and Structural-Functional Synergies with Cell Membrane Phospholipids." After Med Rev 2007 Sept;12:3/li>
  • Breckenridge WC, et al. The lipid composition of adult rat brain synaptosomal plasma membranes. Biochim Biophys Acta 1972;266:695-707.
  • Harris, WS, et al. "Intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid associated with reduced risk for death from coronary heart disease in healthy aduts." Curr Atheroscler Rep 2008 Dec; 10(6):503-9
  • Osher Y, et al. Omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid in bipolar depression: report of a small open-label study. J Clin Psychiatry 2005;66:726-729
  • Barlean's Data

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This article is reprinted with permission from Vitamin Retailer magazine and is provided for educational purposes only by your local retailer. No part of this article is intended as medical advice. Always consult your health care provider for any medical problems.

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