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What are essential fatty acids?

2 min read

Essential fatty acids are essential to our survival.  They called 'essential' because the body cannot make them itself - they must be obtained from our diets. The two main and well known types are:

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our body and we cannot live without them.  They serve a variety of functions in the body:

  • Primarily they help cells to form
  • They help transport oxygen throughout the body
  • They support our red blood cells, enabling them to do their job properly.

Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids

It is important to realise that while Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, they are only beneficial to us in moderation before they become harmful.  

Omega-6 deficiency is considered to be very rare in the western world due to our varied diets and because of our consumption of oils such as corn, soya-bean and sunflower, and they are also consumed through animal fats.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids support important functions in the body:

  • Cell growth
  • Brain and muscle development
  • They aid 'inflammation increasing' hormones, which play an important part in immune response, help blood clotting and help cells grow
  • Linoleic acid is synthesized into PGE1 which is used by the nervous system to transmit nerve pulses.

Dietary consideration and sources

An excellent source of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is Flaxseed.  In recent years the use of Flaxseed as an oil has grown considerably in the UK due to its dietary benefits.  It is also a 'home grown' crop which supports the UK farming community and is a viable and critically acclaimed alternative to olive oils.  Flaxseed has also been buoyed by the support of 'small producers' who have innovated the oil with many culinary  flavours such as smoked, garlic, lemon, chilli and herb oils. 

Uncooked foods are considered to be better sources of Omega fats because heat can actually reduce the levels of essential fatty acids within. For instance raw nuts contain more essential fatty acids than roasted nuts, although as is always the way, probably don't taste quite as good!

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.