What Exactly Are Essential Fatty Acids?
The importance of Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are heralded everywhere from product packaging to visits to the doctor to advertisements on TV. However, the impacts of these fatty on human health are often misunderstood. This article defines essential fatty acids and discusses the importance of Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on healthy well-being.
Why Do We Need To Be Concerned With Omega-3 and -6 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are critical components of cell membranes and help form other vital substances used by the body to perform important functions, such as regulating blood pressure and inflammatory responses to various threats to human health. In fact, ignoring water content, 60% of your brain is made of Omega-3 and Omega-6 (30% each). Your body is constantly renewing itself as your skin cells are completely replaced every 15-30 days and constantly needs a fresh ‘daily’ supply of omega oils to rebuild all the cells that get replaced every day. In addition, an increasing body of research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids protect against fatal heart disease and may help prevent diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Our body is able to produce all the fatty acids we need for realizing the many health benefits of essential fatty acids, except for one omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) and one omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid). These two fatty acids are supplied by foods we eat, and are thus referred to as “essential fatty acids” (as it is essential that we eat foods rich in these acids!). Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important in the normal functioning of all the tissues in our body. Furthermore, these fatty acids are important for growth and repair of our bodies as well as forming other fatty acids.
Lacking these essential fatty acids can cause numerous adverse health symptoms and disorders. These include liver and kidney abnormalities, decreased functioning of the immune system, depression, and dryness of the skin.
Benefits Of Omega-3 And Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Research concerning the benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids continues to identify ways in which these substances promote healthy well-being. These health benefits include:
- Reduces lower triglyceride levels in blood, which lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Can curb stiffness and joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis
- High levels of omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and treat depression
- Promotes visual and neurological development in infants
- May assist in the prevention of asthma in children and young adults
- Reduces ADHD symptoms in children and improves metal skills such as thinking, remembering, and learning
- May reduce depressive symptoms and the progression to dementia
- May decrease breast cancer risk
- Relieve symptoms of menstruation
What Does The “Ideal Ratio” Mean?
It is not enough to consume omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. This is because these acids compete with one another for use in the body. Therefore, excessive intake of one of these fatty acids compromises the use of the other fatty acid. So a proper ratio of these two fatty acids is important for maximizing the health benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
There lacks consensus regarding the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, but generally, estimates fall in the range of 2:1 to 4:1 (omega-6: omega-3). With the dominance in the typical Western diet of processed foods and oils, it is estimated that the average American consumes these essential fatty acids in a ratio between 10:1 and 25:1. This prevents the realization of health benefits from omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp Is One Of The Best Sources Of Essential Fatty Acids
Hemp oil and hemp seeds have ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of about 3:1. For comparison, flaxseed oil (also known as linseed oil) is known for its health benefits, but has only a ratio of about 0.2:1. In fact, hemp and walnuts are the only known food sources that provide omega-3 and omega-6 within the recommended range.
Hemp oil from helpmehemp.org is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, and can be purchased here.