ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS

Proper nutrition and diet for our body starts with understanding the word „essential”. Essential means that the body cannot synthesize that nutrient from other coumpounds found in the body and that nutrient is necessary for survival, therefore we need to provide our body with it from external sources (i.e. we have to eat it).


As far as macronutrients go, there are essential fatty acids and essential amino acids (no such thing as an essential carbohydrate). (Glucose is such an important energy source for our body, that it can be synthesized from almost anything in our body. That is how we can survive for weeks without carbs – or food.)

Omega-3 and Omega-6

Though there are many misinformation in the fitness media, there are only 2 truly essential fatty acids that our body could not synthesize. Both of them are Omega-3 fatty acids – and not the ones you think about right now. One of them is alpha-linolenic acid (aka ALA), found in plant sources mostly like flaxseed and chia seeds. The other is Omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid present in high quantities in sunflower oil.

I know you are already thinking: „But Norbi, what about EPA and DHA? The essential fatty acids in fish oil?” Well, by deifinition, they are not essential! ALA can be converted in the body to EPA, and EPA to DHA. However, the rate of conversion is low (about 5% for ALA to EPA and 1% for EPA to DHA). Proper levels of EPA and DHA are necessery for a healthy body and those are hard to attain from ALA intake only, so eating/supplementing with these fatty acids is recommended. EPA and DHA are found mostly in animal sources like cold water fish, game and caviar.

While supplementing with fish oil I would recommend lowering our vegetable oil intake. Our modern nutrition has pushed the Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio to 1:15-1:30 from the normal/healthy 1:2-1:4. Therefore, I would not recommend consuming more Omega-6 acids than necessary. Use olive oil or avocado oil instead. It contains high amounts of Omega-9 fatty acids, which, although not essential, is probably the healthiest of all fatty acids.


What’s the problem with the changed Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio?

In our bodies both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids have very important roles. For example these are the raw material for the synthesis of multiple signalling molecules, or they can incorporate into the cells’ membrane and change its fluidity. Coumpounds synthesized from poly-unsaturated fatty acids (Omega-3 & 6) are called eicosanoids and some of them have anti-inflammatory and some of them have pro-inflammatory effect in the body. Omega-3’s turn into anti-inflammatory, while Omega-6 turn into pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Do not get me wrong: we need both of them, in the proper ratio!

High Omega-6 intake however tilts the scale towards pro-inflamamtory eicosanoid production. The other problem is that Omega-3s and Omega-6s are converted to eicosanoids by the same enzymes, so too much Omega-6s will prevent the conversion of Omega-3s to anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. That results in an excess of pro-inflammatory compounds and a lack of anti-inflammatory compounds at the same time. High ratio of Omega-6 leads to inflammation and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A healthy diet consist of a proper Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio, around 1:2-1:4. (That means if we eat 40-50 g of Omega-6, another 10-20 g of Omega-3 should be consumed as well.)


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