The Low Carb Luxury Newsletter: 
Volume III / Number 15: August 13, 2002: Page 7
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      Answering Mail
Essential Fatty Acids

Dear Lora,

I keep hearing that we should be having the "healthy" fats and they mention Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. What exactly ARE they?


Beverly Brickman

Dear Beverly,

Actually, we've gotten quite a few questions asking us to help to define them and why we need them. So here's a basic overview.

Essential fatty acids (EFA) thin your blood and help it flow more easily through your veins, carrying nutrients to your cells and brain. They also protect your arteries from forming plaque.

EFAs also keep your hair, skin and nails healthy. The typical American diet tends to be deficient in EFAs, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. You won't find them in a multiple vitamin/mineral because oils don't mix well with the dry powders that are pressed into tablets. However, EFAs are vital to any permanent eating program.

There are three types of EFAs. Omega-9 fatty acids are readily available in olive oil, but you need supplements to get adequate amounts of the other two, omega-3 and omega-6 oils. Omega 3's come mostly from animal sources (primarily fish and seafood) and vegetable sources, such as flaxseed oil, and hemp seed which provide alpha-linolenic acid. Omega-6, also known as gamma-linolenic acid, is found in borage oil and black-currant oil.

Because our bodies cannot manufacture these fatty acids by itself, it is essential that they be consumed in food and/or supplements. That's why they're called ESSENTIAL Fatty Acids.

The discovery of essential fats goes back to 1929 and the work of husband-and-wife research team George and Mildred Burr. The couple's research on animals showed that a lack of essential fats in the diet created skin problems such as dryness, scales and swelling. They also observed damage to internal organs as the deficiency progressed. When these symptoms were left untreated, the animals eventually died.

In 1956, another researcher furthered our understanding of essential fats with a letter published in The Lancet, one of the world's most prestigious medical journals. The author, Hugh Sinclair, claimed that most of the world's so-called "diseases of civilization" - coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, strokes and skin disease - were caused by a disturbance in fat metabolism.

Sinclair, who dedicated his life to the study of nutrition and the role of essential fatty acids in human health observed that, in spite of improvements in medicine and standard of living, the life expectancy of a 50-year-old man had not changed since the middle of the 19th century. He theorized that the major reason for this was because the typical Western diet was full of processed foods and trans-fatty acids, but severely lacking in essential fatty acids.

Although Sinclair was ridiculed at the time, modern science has discovered that his theories were, indeed, correct. We know today that essential fatty acids (EFAs) profoundly influence the health of the human body.

While EFAs are like vitamins in their essentiality, they differ in other respects. Vitamins are required in small amounts (mg/day). EFAs are macronutrients, necessary in grams/day.

A second difference is that EFAs are perishable, deteriorating rapidly when exposed to light, air, heat and metals. Unlike vitamins, EFAs cannot be dried, powdered, and stored for several years. EFA sensitivity makes careful processing and freshness extremely important.

It's all about the ratios...

Omega 3 to omega 6 ratios in healthy populations range from 1:2.5 (Inuit diets) to 6:1 (other traditional diets). Since 1850, omega 3 consumption has decreased to one-sixth its traditional level, resulting in an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 20:1 (contemporary polyunsaturated oil diets), associated with degenerative conditions.

The reason is largely obvious. As a population, we eat the fats we DO eat now primarily as cheap trans fats, and many avoid most fat altogether seeing fat as the enemy.

Flax, our richest source of omega 3, quickly replenishes a long-standing omega 3 deficiency. A dozen 8 oz. bottles of good quality flax oil consumed over the course of a few months will suffice.

Long-term exclusion or excessive use of flax oil can result in omega 6 deficiency after about two years, because flax oil is omega 3 rich but omega 6 poor.

If a person has cancer, inflammatory conditions, or needs to lose weight, omega 3 should be favored. Otherwise, an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio between 1:2 and 1:3 is suitable.

Of all the oil bearing seeds, hemp seed oil is the only one that is balanced in EFAs. Its seed contains by weight 35% oil, of which 60% is LA and 20% is LNA. This is exactly the proportions we need it in. Hemp seed is now beginning to become available. We'll be looking at it more closely in an upcoming issue. It's very low carb, and nutrient rich.

Hope this helped to answer your questions and that you now understand the absolute need for these very healthy fats!


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