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Essential Fatty Acids:
What Are They And Why Should You Eat Them?

By: Tod Syversen

When the words oil or fat are mentioned in the same sentence as diet, do you tend to run for cover? What you may be missing is that there are good fats and bad fats. Total avoidance of oils and fats would actually be detrimental - rather than beneficial - to your health.

When you avoid fats you are missing a whole group of fats called Essential Fatty Acids. These fats essential because your body can not create them and they are required for good health. You must obtain these fats from the food you eat.

Essential fatty acids are divided into two families: omega-6 and omega-3 EFAs. While there are only very slight differences that distinguish the two groups of essential fatty acids from each other their impact on your body is dramatically different.

Studies have revealed that too much intake of omega-6 EFAs can lead to inflammation, blood clotting and tumor growth. The good news, however, is that the omega-3 EFAs provide the counter balance to the effects of omega-6 EFAs.

There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid is the most common omega-6 fatty acid in the average diet. Linoleic acid comes from vegetable oils and in the fat of commercially raised animals where it is unnaturally high. Two common vegetable oils high in omega-6 EFAs are corn and soy oils, both of which contain high amounts of linoleic acid.

The three most nutritionally important omega 3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 EFAs can be found in fish oils, flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnut oil, and green leafy vegetables. All of these being excellent sources of alpha-linolenic acid. Generally fish oils are the best source for EPA & DHA which is why these are so closely associated with fish.

Take note that of the different omega-3 EFAs, EPA & DHA provide the biggest benefits. There are many special benefits to the human body that have been observed from the consumption of these fatty acids. In the early 1970's, a study on Greenland Eskimos have revealed that one of the major reasons why they rarely suffer from heart diseases is because of their high-fat diet composed mainly of fish.

Physicians and scientists are of the same opinion about the causes behind the decreasing health of people today. This decrease in health is continuing in spite of better health and fitness knowledge. Cases of heart disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, premature aging and certain kinds of cancer are on the rise and they can be linked to the imbalanced intake of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs.

Other Benefits of EPA/DHA

The two essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are incredibly helpful in preventing atherosclerosis, heart attacks, depression and various forms of cancer. Fish oil supplements have also proven to be useful in treating illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Raynaud's disease and ulcerative colitis. There are a lot more illnesses and situations in which the increased intake of fish oil has proven to be significantly beneficial.

Naturally, it's in our best interests to keep our hearts happy and healthy and one way of doing that is eating foods that are high in omega-3 EFAs and in particular EPA & DHA.

In Athens, Greece, for instance, one study was conducted to show if there was a direct relationship between a high fish diet and inflammation of blood vessels. The results revealed that those who ate the most fish had a lower level of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, two factors that are commonly used to measure likelihood of blood vessel inflammation. Even when the various risks associated with a high fish diet where taken into account the benefits remained.

Hopefully I have done what I started out to do and you understand the importance of returning the natural balance of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs to your diet. Increasing the EPA & DHA you get through your diet whether through eating more fish or supplementing with fish oils would be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. I've given a very short list of the positive effects of EPA & DHA as they are too numerous to cover in this article.

Remember, nothing is good when consumed or used to excess but complete avoidance of a particular food type is equally harmful as well. Seek the assistance of a qualified professional to get your diet on track to better health and make sure that the regular consumption of omega-3, EPA and DHA fatty acids are part of that plan.

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