EFAs – The “Good” Fats… And More
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are essential to our diet and body. Unfortunately, many of us are relatively deficient in these powerful fats. Gone are the days of eating simple diets full of fish, seeds and nuts; our diets are now full of processed foods that are lacking in the good, essential fats.
Some signs of EFA deficiencies include dry, scaly skin, thinning hair, fatigue, impaired growth, loss of visual acuity, and increased incidence of disease.
Immune system deficiencies are also commonly seen with an EFA deficiency. Upon supplementation with EFAs, conditions such as asthma and various food allergies can be greatly improved.
Studies have shown a link between a fat imbalance in the brain and development of certain mental conditions such as learning disorders, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease and ADD/ADHD, to name a few. Research supports that EFA supplementation into diets of ADD/ADHD children has appeared to lessen the effects of hyperactivity, aggression and impulsiveness.
There are two main types of EFAs – omega-3s and omega-6s. Recent research shows that omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important for healthy brain function. Omega-3s are present in fatty fish as well as oil-bearing nuts and seeds. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is mainly concentrated in the brain and retina cells. It has been recognized as essential for infant brain development and retinal function.
DHA and EPA
Studies of preterm infants have shown the importance of dietary DHA in learning. DHA has further been shown to play an important role in treating ADD/ADHD. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) also belongs to the omega-3 family and is essential for the production of anti-inflammatory compounds. DHA and EPA are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and tuna.
However, to receive the highest concentration of DHA, tuna is the richest source, but if your child does not like the taste of tuna, the oil is also available in convenient softgel form.
Another omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in high quantities in flaxseed and flaxseed oil. ALA is the parent omega-3 and precursor to EPA and DHA. Experimental studies have shown that ALA supports learning and memory. Small quantities of ALA are metabolized into DHA, providing additional benefits to the brain.
Omega-6 fatty acids, particularly dihomo-gamma linolenic acid (DGLA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA), the precursor to DGLA, also play an important role in healthy brain function. Hyperactive children have been shown to be deficient in DGLA. Valuable quantities of GLA are found in borage and evening primrose oil, with borage being the richest source, containing 20-24% GLA.
Phosphatidyl choline (PC), which can be found in soy lecithin, is a component of all cells in the body. It also acts as a source of choline which is the starting material for the synthesis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. Studies have shown that supplementation with PC helps in learning and memory.
As well, vitamin E is an important antioxidant vitamin that protects the cells, including neurons, from oxidative damage. Vitamin E is a valuable additive to any EFA oil, as it helps prevent oxidation of the oil.