There are two families of essential fatty acids or EFAs: Omega-3 and Omega-6, and proper cell function is dependent on a balanced intake of both. The over-consumption of Omega-6 fats from refined vegetable oils, processed foods and meat in our diet has upset this balance however, in a very big way.
EFAs are vital structural components of the cell membrane that surrounds and protects all 100 trillion cells in the body, and research has determined that in order to prevent deficiency and encourage optimal health, EFAs must be consumed daily. Since our levels of Omega-3s are far below those necessary for optimal health and prevention of chronic disease, the recommendation is to consume more Omega-3s than Omega-6s.
The best sources of the Omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, are cold water fish such as sardines, anchovies, salmon, and herring. These are EFAs because the human body requires them but is unable to make sufficient quantities, therefore, they must be obtained from the diet or supplementation.
EPA or eicosapantaenoic acid is a long-chain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid naturally found in fish and fish oil.
EPA Benefits: Improves heart health and immune function and is beneficial for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, including arthritis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease.
DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is a very long-chain Omega-3 essential fatty acid found in fish.
DHA Benefits: It is uniquely important to nerve and brain cells. It increases cell membrane fluidity, neurotransmitter activity, and improves learning, memory and cognition. It plays an important role in mental well-being, effectively reducing depression, anxiety, anger, agression, and other psychological conditions. Infants require DHA for proper brain, eye, and central nervous system development.
GLA – Over-consumption of Omega-6 fats results in chronic inflammation. One exception is GLA or gamma-linolenic acid, a different type of Omega-6 that is found in borage and evening primrose oils. Adequate amounts of GLA are not made by the body and must be consumed through the diet or supplementation.
GLA Benefits: Supports optimal skin health, smooths and protects the skin, reduces eczema and other inflammatory skin eruptions, alleviates premenstrual and menopausal symptoms, and it is helpful for arthritis.
Omega-3 from Fish or Flax? Omega-3 fatty acids fall into two major categories: plant derived (flax seed, containing the shorter chain fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), and marine-derived (fish oil, containing longer chain EPA and DHA). The evidence is strongest for EPA and DHA. Our bodies can convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but very inefficiently. Only about 15% of ALA converts to EPA, and it may not convert to DHA at all.
Note: When shopping for salmon, stick to wild caught vs. the Atlantic or farmed options. This is due to food contaminants that include metals (such as mercury, which affects brain function and development), industrial chemicals (PCBs and dioxins), and pesticides (DDT). You can minimize risk by choosing seafood carefully; a great source of information is the Seafood Watch website.