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Good Fats

Source: Healthsights, Issue 2:2005

Improve Your Health by Adding More Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9 Fats to Your Daily Diet

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the “good” fats your body needs to function properly. They provide energy, increase your absorption of nutrients from foods and support the health of your bones, brain, breasts, eyes, heart, immune system, joints, nerves, muscles, prostate and skin. They even help you maintain hormonal balance.

There are two groups of EFAs: omega-3 and omega-6. They are called “essential” because they must be obtained in the daily diet.

Omega-3 Fats

Unless you eat a lot of fish or flax you may not be getting enough omega-3 fats. The three most important omega fats are:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) important for cardiovascular health and producing anti-inflammatory hormones
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) essential to the brain, eyes, nerves
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which the body converts into EPA and DHA

Omega-6 Fats

These EFAs are abundant in meats, nuts, beans, leafy greens and unprocessed vegetable oils. The most important are:

  • GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) necessary for healthy skin, hormonal balance and producing anti-inflammatory hormones
  • AA (arachidonic acid) essential to normal brain and nerve functions, blood viscosity and making pro-inflammatory hormones; Some AA is necessary, but too much is unhealthy
  • LA (linoleic acid) which the body converts into GLA and AA

What About Omega-9s?

Although not considered essential, omega-9 fats are healthy nonetheless. Whenever possible they should be consumed in place of saturated fats – especially for cardiovascular health. The best sources of omega-9s are macadamia and extra virgin olive oils.

Healthy Need for EFA Supplements

If you’re like most Americans you are likely consuming too much saturated fat and AA, but not enough ALA, EPA, DHA and GLA. This imbalance of fats can be causing or contributing to health problems. That’s why nutritional experts recommend supplementing the diet with direct sources of healthy fats – such as borage, cod liver, evening primose, fish, flax, hemp, krill, macadamia, olive and marine microalgae oils. Studies demonstrate the effectiveness of taking essential fatty acid supplements to address specific healthy concerns. The key is knowing which type of essential fat helps with your particular health need, summarized as follows:

Bone Density: GLA and EPA enhance the absorption of calcium and increase its deposition into bones for greater bone density.*

Breast Health: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids promote breast health, and studies show GLA reduces breast tenderness.*

Cardiovascular & Heart Health: Supportive but not conclusive research has shown that EPA & DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. ALA and Omega-9 fats are also helpful.*

Diabetes: Diabetics can have trouble converting essential fatty acids, especially LA into GLA, which is necessary for proper nerve function.*

Digestion: EPA and GLA help regulate bowel functions.*

Energy: GLA, ALA, EPA and DHA are energy sources for the body. They also improve the flow of nutrients and oxygen to cells.*

Eye Function: DHA is critical to the structure of the eye, and research shows it helps promote healthy visual function.*