by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LDN


I never can resist a chance to emphasize the fact that long ago there was a group of knowledgeable nutrition experts saying all the things that are now being presented with such fanfare as new discoveries. This is, therefore, a slightly up-dated version of a column I wrote for our local paper approximately fifteen years ago: you have my permission to be astonished by my prescience. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

At its simplest, my belief is that the the more someone else’s hand has interfered with your food between its original state and your mouth, the less likely you are to benefit from eating it. I mean that if you buy an ur- food, and cook it yourself, you know what you are getting. If it has been processed and sold to you as a completed product, odds are the motivating factor in what has been done to it is not your health, but the bottom line of the food manufacturer. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Forgive my cynicism here, but I have yet to see a food that has benefited nutritionally from being processed. As an example, I have ALWAYS recommended butter over margarine (I make my own), I use lard (which I render myself) sparingly in my kitchen , and the role of coconut oil in the impressive health record of the indigenous populations who use it cannot be argued. Once again let me emphasize my 2 credos and apply them to fat selection: ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

  • lack of moderation causes imbalances: choose good fat sources and use them in moderation. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

  • technology in food is usually the enemy: choose the fats that have been used traditionally in healthy cultures and you can’t go much wrong. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

While this may not sound terribly scientific, it is my recommendation for relaxed maintenance of a healthy fatty acid balance. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Essential Fatty Acids are required for energy production in the body, for cardiac function, for the health of hair, skin and nails, for hormone production, brain function, and (extremely important) for the integrity of the very structure of our cells. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Fat is the major form of energy storage. In a typical individual the fuel reserves are distributed as follows: ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Fat: 100,000 kcal.
Protein: 25,000 kcal.
Carbohydrate: 650 kcal.

However, one can’t just say “fat”, because it is becoming increasingly apparent that the KIND of fat is crucial to health. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids convert to energy much more efficiently than saturated fats (the subject of a study sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) – see RESOURCES). ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Fat molecules are made up of three fatty acid chains connected by a glycerol backbone. Fatty acids are basically long chains of carbon and hydrogen, which are broken down by progressively cleaving two carbon bits and converting these to acetyl coenzyme A. For every two carbons in a fatty acid, oxidation yields 5 ATPs (measures of energy) , but saturated fats have been converted to chains of hydrogen only, which oxygen cannot break to produce energy. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Below are sources of essential fatty acids:

Name of acids Rich sources
Palmitic All fats and oils
Stearic Lards, tallow , coconut
Butyric Butter
Oleic All fats and oils – olive, macadamia, etc
Linoleic Mostly in vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, soya bean, corn, cotton seed and walnut
Linolenic Linseed oil
Arachidonic Fish oils and animal fats

Source of table, with thanks.

It therefore follows that eliminating saturated, trans and hydrogenated fats from our diets and replacing them with better choices can make a vast difference to our health

I remember coming across a petition to the FDA asking that some new studies on the connection between hydrogenated fats and coronary artery disease not be disseminated, for fear of causing consumers “unnecessary alarm”! These are the Trans fatty acids found in such things as Crisco and some margarines, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to figure out where the petition came from – hint: not a consumer protection group. Now, it appears that trans fatty acids are villains to our children (see below) as well as to our cholesterol levels as adults (though this shouldn’t really come as such a surprise.)

Why is it important to limit trans fatty acids? A report released by the Institute of Medicine on July 11th 2002 says it all: “It is recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet,” a panel of experts stated, noting that trans fatty acids are known to increase blood levels of low-density lipoprotein, while lowering levels of high-density lipoprotein.” It is also important to note that trans fats block the enzyme that converts the alpha-linolenic acid in flax oil to EPA and DHA. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) Jul 12 – A diet rich in foods containing trans fatty acids increases concentrations of LDL cholesterol. However, unlike saturated fats, trans fatty acids also decrease concentrations of HDL cholesterol, which appears to significantly impair endothelial function, Dutch researchers report. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

“By measuring arterial vasodilation, we compared the effects of trans fatty acids with those of saturated fatty acids to determine whether the decrease in HDL cholesterol posed an additional risk of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Nicole M. de Roos, from Wageningen University, told Reuters Health. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

In a randomized crossover trial, Dr. de Roos and colleagues put 29 healthy subjects on two controlled diets, according to their report in the July issue of Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology . The subjects consumed each diet, for 4 weeks. Both diets contained 9.2 energy percent from either trans fatty acids (Trans-diet) or saturated fatty acids (Sat-diet). ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Dr. de Roos’ group found that when subjects consumed trans fats instead of saturated fatty acids HDL-cholesterol levels went down by about 26% and arterial dilation was impaired by about one third. “When patients consumed a diet containing saturated fats, vasodilation was about 6.5% of baseline diameter, while it was about 4% of baseline diameter on the diet rich in trans fats,” Dr. de Roos said. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Given their findings, Dr. de Roos believes that “we should try to ban trans fatty acids from our diets and replace them with natural oils, before they are hydrogenated, or by tropical saturated fats that are rich in C14, C16 fatty acids, which do not lower HDL cholesterol.” ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2001;21:00-00.

Dr. Undurti Das has been studying EFA levels in infants and corresponding rates of hypertension. He says that when DHA levels are reduced in animal models the animals develop hypertension as adults. There is also evidence that when these fatty acids are given to adults who have mild to moderate hypertension, blood pressure returns to normal, he added. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Because breastfeeding may not supply all the polyunsaturated fatty acids needed to prevent hypertension, Dr. Das hypotheses that hypertension could be prevented by supplementing the child’s diet with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids from birth through early childhood. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

“Intervention needs to be done early, because once the neural mechanisms involved in the development of hypertension are developed, prevention may be too late,” he said. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

The researcher recommends that a clinical study be conducted with children who are supplemented with polyunsaturated fatty acids from birth to about 5 years of age and are then followed to see if hypertension develops. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

These fatty acids prevent cardiac arrhythmias, type 2 diabetes, and reduce the cholesterol and triglyceride levels, he said. Polyunsaturated fatty acids also reduce the production of harmful cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor, interleukin 1beta and interleukin 6, Dr. Das added. “Perhaps polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation should be given lifelong.” ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Hypertension 2001;38:e6-e8.

A team of Finnish researches has found that the kind of fats in children’s diets may play a role in the increased incidence of allergies. Their study found that children who eventually developed allergies ate less butter and more margarine compared with children who did not develop allergies. The allergic children also tended to eat less fish, although this dietary difference was not considered significant. This is not the first study to indicate that polyunsaturated fats may play a role in allergies: fats like those in margarine have been shown to encourage the formation of prostaglandin E2, a substance that promotes inflammation and causes the immune system to release a protein that triggers allergic reactions. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Allergy 2001;56:425-428

No, the fats that are essential to our health, and that we need a supply of on a daily basis are unsaturated oils, preferably a selection of poly- and mono ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

A deficiency of unsaturated oils has been linked to a long list of problems ranging from arthritis to MS to heart disease, high cholesterol levels and cancer. The Omega-3 and Omega- 6 fatty acids in proper balance play a vital part in normalizing many body functions: for example, it has been shown that Omega-3 oils actually break down cholesterol in the lining of the blood vessels, and facilitate the transport of saturated fats, as well as lowering levels of LDL, the “bad” form of cholesterol. They are also instrumental in preventing a pro-inflammatory cycle which can be instigated by excessive intake of the wrong kinds of fats and fatty acids. One problem with achieving this balance is that the Omega 6 fatty acids are much more common, being in most of the oils we use -such as corn oil, which in effect is present in almost all processed foods. My personal preference in mono-unsaturated or Omega 9s is for olive and macadamia oils; Omega 9s are essentially neutral, where most cooking oils are Omega 6s. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS


Fats are essential to the health of our cells. Restated, the PROPER fats are essential to the health of our cells. The fats most prevalent in our diets, however, are predominantly Omega 6, which are pro-inflammatory. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Corn and safflower oils, which are in practically everything in the way of prepared foods, are Omega 6. What we need is to redress the balance to a prevalence of Omega 3 fatty acids. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Sources of Omega 3 are walnuts, flax and fish. When you consider that an enzyme (deficient in many people, and especially in disease conditions) is needed to convert flax to the anti-inflammatory form we need, and that Flax also contains Omega 6, the clear winner is fish, with a supplemental form being both convenient and pure. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

The two fatty acids present in high amounts in Fish Oil are EPA and DHA, both precursors to important ANTI-inflammatory substances in the body, and both connected in studies to a lowered risk of cancer. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Additionally, a 2003 study at the University of Edinburgh determined that Omega 3s can halt and reverse the weight loss and lack of appetite (Cachexia) experienced by some cancer patients. See RESOURCES for the study report. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

This is why the recent no-fat fad disturbed me so much: I was seeing an increasing number of young girls coming for advice for premenstrual problems, hair, nail and skin problems, and lack of energy . The message I try to convey is that entirely excluding any essential part of the diet is will not benefit us in the long run: what works is BALANCE. Lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates, and moderate amounts of friendly sources of unsaturated fats – such as olive oil, macadamia nut oil, walnut and flax oil,- fresh water and the occasional indulgence: this is the diet our bodies were designed for, and the one to keep us light and healthy! ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

To reiterate: the S.A.D (Standard American Diet) has long been notorious for being high in fat, so where do I get the idea that anyone could possibly not be getting enough fats?

The secret lies in the word “certain”: certain fats, not all fats, are essential to vibrant health. This is the case not only where fairly minor health problems are concerned, but also in some serious conditions. One of the interesting facts presented to us at a recent Convention, was that a connection is now being made between lack of the necessary fatty acids, and the present high cholesterol epidemic. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Dr. Siguel, one of the foremost international experts on the subject of fatty acids, has hypothesized that LDLs ( Low Density Lipoproteins) in the body are actually part of the transport system for EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids), and that when insufficient supplies of these are available the LDLs are produced in greater quantities in order to supply the cells with the EFAs they need. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

He feels that low levels of EFAs are one of the missing links in relating nutrition to coronary heart disease, and suggests that heart patients need to bring their EFA blood profile closer to that of healthy people. An added benefit for heart health is that while the Arachidonic acid obtained from animal fats is highly pro-aggregatory (the Linoleic acid contained in such fats is a precursor only for Arachidonic acid and subsequently inflammatory PGE2) the good Omega 3 fatty acids such as Fish Liver Oils (FLO) produce PGE1 (Prostaglandin E1), a potent inhibitor of platelet aggregation.

Remember, fats are often replaced in fat-free foods by carbohydrates, causing high insulin production in the body which in turn shuts down the enzyme pathways through which Arachidonic acid is converted to the friendly GLA. This in turn means the messengers (eicosanoids) which promote insulin sensitivity in the cells are not sent to do their jobs, more insulin is produced to take care of the added carbs, and a vicious cycle leading potentially to diabetes, cardiovascular problems and possibly even cancer.Syndrome X, or Insulin Resistance is set in motion. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Another option for lowering cholesterol and, some studies suggest, blood pressure, is flax seed oil. High levels of Fish Oil have even more dramatic affects, and in my opinion it is essential to balance the Flax Oil’s Omega 6 with Omega 3. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

While some are suggesting that Flax, or Soy or Walnut Oils can give the same Omega 3 benefits as Fish Oil, the unfortunate fact is that the while they do contain ALA (alpha- linolenic acid, the precursor to EPA and DHA) individuals vary greatly in the extent to which the conversion occurs in the body since many people lack the necessary enzyme, delta 5 desaturase. Yet others are eating high levels of carbohydrates and thereby inhibiting that enzyme. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

One estimate is that less than 1% is converted. ALAs role as an energy source means also that most of it is removed from the blood stream before conversion can take place. See RESOURCES for a (very) comprehensive report by a true expert! It is even possible that in people who are trying to correct a disease state, the existing imbalances in the body may further compromise this conversion.The only way to get a reliable supply of EPA and DHA, in my opinion is through Fish Oil supplements. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Your Grandmother will have told you that fish is brain food, and surprise!  She was right! ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

An added plus of Fish Oil is the DHA content, an upcoming star in sustaining brain function. Gradually we are coming to recognize the importance of DHA for mental function and vision, but new research suggests it also plays a role in resistance to diabetes. An omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil appears to improve insulin function in overweight individuals who are vulnerable to type 2 diabetes, researchers report. Three months of daily supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) produced a “clinically significant” improvement in insulin sensitivity in overweight study participants, according to Dr. Yvonne Denkins, a nutrition researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Institute, Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. What is going on here is the cycle I describe above.

Remember, also, that the importance of Omega 3s increases during pregnancy, where the developing fetal brain and vision competes with the mother’s requirements for this nutrient. There is some suggestion, in fact, that lower levels of Omega 3s in the mother are a contributing factor in preeclampsia. Certainly, it takes about 3 months after delivery for the mother to replenish her supply of DHA. Its presence in breast milk takes first priority and its importance for the infant can hardly be over-emphasized throughout pregnancy. Sadly, levels of DHA in the milk of American nursing mothers is falling dramatically. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

PGE1 also affects the hormone prolactin, high levels of which are implicated in many of the problems associated with PMS (and prostate problems, incidentally): GLA (Gamma Linoleic Acid) from Evening Primrose Oil has been shown in double blind studies to reduce symptoms significantly, the most outstanding results being with fibrocystic breast disease, where 45% of those with cyclical symptoms improved on GLA: PGE1 actually blocks the formation of Arachidonic acid and PGE2, levels of which are higher in patients with these types of breast problems. It is interesting to note that deficiencies of B6 interfere with the conversion of Omega-3 fatty acids into EPA and DHA, and that birth control pills increase requirements for B6. A complicated cycle! ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Evening Primrose oil is not the only excellent source of GLA: some actually argue that Borage Oil is a better and less expensive source. Viewed purely objectively, it seems to me that I have better results for menopausal problems with EPO, but studies have shown Borage Oil to be medically effective in Rheumatoid Arthritis, where it reduces the pain and joint stiffness. A recent (HSR Mar 2000) study at the Shriner’s Hospital for Children found participants responding favourably to treatment with Borage Oil. in Diabetic Neuropathy patients treated with GLA experienced significant improvement in reflexes, muscle strength and sensitivity to touch (among other parameters). Studies on Borage Oil’s use in cases of high cholesterol show an effective dose to be in the 1 to 4 gram range, with improvement in LDL and HDL levels being noted after 2 months. With cardiovascular disease, doses of 4 to 5 grams were shown to reduce blood pressure, and suggest that it may also inhibit some of the processes which lead to plaque forming in blood vessels. A study published in the Journal of Hypertension in 1996 showed that 1 gram of GLA taken for four weeks lowered blood pressure during stress exposure tests , where a placebo control group evidenced an increase in blood pressure. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Fatty acid levels are also abnormal in conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, food allergies, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Interestingly, results have also been seen with supplementation of EFAs for Raynaud’s syndrome and the dry eyes associated with Sjogren’s symptom . Much of this success is due to the anti-inflammatory action of PGE1. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Recently, there has been interesting research linking prostaglandins to hyperactivity in children. A British organization called Hyperactive Children’s Support Group has witnessed some dramatic results in these children when supplementing with EPO (Evening primrose Oil). The group has found some figures to suggest that hyperactive children often have problems with alcohol as they grow up, and alcoholics also appear to be deficient in GLA and PGE1. Alcohol raises levels of PGE1 temporarily, and PGE1 has recently been found to be one of the key determiners of moods. EPO is therefore also being tested to see if it can play a role in the prevention of alcoholism and provide protection against the damage it causes. It seems to me a strong possibility that inadequate intake of EFAs by the Mothers could definitely play a part in this: I suggest that supplementation with Omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy might do a great deal to both increase mental development in the fetus, and protect against not only neural problems, but ADD/ADHD after birth. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Causes of EFA deficiency are mostly diet related: low intake of GLA oil – high dietary levels of saturated or mono-unsaturated fats – low levels of the nutrients B6, B3, C and zinc, – moderate to high consumption of alcohol – but also diabetes – and even the process of aging. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Certainly in my opinion enough evidence exists to encourage us to make sure that we are getting enough of the proper forms of this essential nutrient, even if we have to take supplements to do it!

Find the recommended supplements here

PUFAs protective  against Neuro-degeneration –

Study comparing Japanese in Hawaii and in Japan – the difference?  Fatty acid intake.

A study currently recruiting patients. Differential Metabolism of Dietary Fatty Acids –

The Role of Fatty Acids in Breast Cancer Prevention –

Related articles you may find interesting: