What are Essential Fatty Acids?
Essential Fatty Acids (Omega’s 3, 6 & 9) are the major component of fats and oils. There are some non-essential fatty acids but the essential fatty acids are vital for good health.
Omega-3 fatty acids are required across the whole lifecycle, from maternity to maturity. There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids, each with a specific chemical structure, but the key health benefits are thought to come from long chain omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA and DHA can be synthesised in our bodies from the essential fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but the process is very slow and inefficient. This is why experts advise that these nutrients are consumed directly from the diet. The best source of Omega-3 essential fatty acids can be found in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, pilchards.
Omega-6 essential fatty acids are found in Evening Primrose Oil, Starflower Oil, Nuts, Seeds, Sunflower, Hemp, Safflower and Linseed (Flax) oil.
EFAs play a role in every cell of our bodies and are needed for
- Brain development and function
- Cell function
- Healthy heart function
Symptoms of EFA Deficiencies can include:
- ADHD / hyperactivity
- Mood changes and poor attention
- Visual problems
- Digestive problems
- Excessive thirst or insatiable appetite
- Dry, flaking skin; “chicken skin” bumps on the back of arms and/or thighs / cheeks
- Brittle, soft or splitting fingernails
- Dry, unmanageable hair, dandruff
- Excessive or hard earwax
- Ezcema, asthma or multiple allergies
EFA deficiencies are common and will occur if there is:
- Consumption of too few EFA rich foods such as oily fish
- Insufficiency of co-factors (vitamins and minerals). More details on this can be found in the HACSG publication “Essential Fatty Acids – Vitamins & Minerals in the Management of ADHD” – link to Your Order Page
- Consumption of hydrogenated vegetable oils (found in margarine and many snack foods such as crisps)
- Consumption of too much white flour and processed food.
- Consumption of too much sugar
- Presence of Candida / yeast infection
Research carried out by the HACSG in 1981 into the links between hyperactivity and EFA deficiency based on a detailed survey of the characteristics of many of the hyperactive children with which it was working.
The HACSG came to the conclusion that many ADHD children have a deficiency of EFAs, either because they cannot metabolise linoleic acid correctly, they cannot absorb EFAs from the gut, or their EFA requirements are higher than would normally be the case.
In fact, the HACSG was the first to propose that fatty acid deficiency could be a factor in ADHD. The findings of this research were published in 1981, “A Lack of EFAs as a possible cause of hyperactivity in children” (Medical Hypotheses, 7(5), 1981, Irene Colquhoun & Sally Bunday).
The Colquhoun/Bunday hypotheses stimulated further studies and treatment trials which have generally supported the theory.
Research is ongoing throughout the world into the links between essential fatty acids, nutrition and behavioural disorder. Research carried out, for example, with British and US offenders suggests nutritional deficiencies play a strong role in aggressive behaviour.
A prison trial at Aylesbury in the UK showed that when men were fed multivitamins, minerals and EFAs, the level of violent offenses committed in prison fell by some 37%. While no one suggests that an improvement in nutrition is the cure-all for complex social ills, evidence strongly suggests a link between diet and behaviour.
One US researcher into the effects of Omega-3 on the brain believes that modern industrialised diets may be changing "the architecture and functioning of the brain". Deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise these fats, is leading to increases in mental problems from depression to aggression.
In the past 100 years western diets have undergone a shift in which the omega-3 fatty acids, essential to brain function, have been overwhelmed by competing omega-6 fatty acids. These come mainly from the industrial preparation of takeaways, ready meals and snack foods which have become staple parts of the diet for many families.
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