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Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s): their critical role in maintaining good health and well-being

There are two essential fatty acids necessary for life; Linoleic Acid (LA) which is a member of the Omega 6 family and Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which is a member of the Omega 3 family. The body cannot make them so they must be ingested through the food we eat. Once ingested, enzymes must convert LA to the active form such as GLA, another member of the Omega 6 family and ALA to EPA and DHA, members of the Omega 3 family. GLA and EPA/DHA are precursors to the production of the essential series 1, 2 and 3 prostaglandins; hormone like substances that regulate vital cell activities and determine the state of health of every cell, tissue and organ in the body.

GLA is the precursor to the series 1 and 2 prostaglandin: which is involved in critical physiological functions including reducing platelet aggregation, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, decreasing inflammation, balancing various hormone functions and maintenance of a healthy immune system.

EPA/DHA are precursors to the series 3 prostaglandin which is involved in critical physiological functions including regulating blood cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure and blood platelets, water retention, immune function, and the normal functions of brain and nerves, vision and hearing, adrenal function, sperm formation and thrombosis.

The body needs both of these EFA’s in a natural balance for maximum benefit to be realized; just like we need two legs to walk or run or to perform most sports! Each leg is equally important. Likewise GLA and EPA/DHA are equally important and must be in the balance as Nature provided. Scientists know that the desired balance is 1:1 between GLA and EPA/DHA to insure the correct balance at the cellular level.

In many people, the ability to convert LA and ALA into GLA and EPA/DHA is deficient. As we age, the natural conversion slows. Saturated fats, trans (twisted) fatty acids and sugar inhibit this conversion; Deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals such as niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), magnesium, zinc and copper also slow down the conversion process; Virus infections can interfere with this conversion; Diabetics are poor converters.

Excess EPA blocks the conversion of GLA to prostaglandin series 1 & 2 because EPA is preferentially incorporated into cell membranes and the expense of GLA. This is critical as high EPA can compromise the immune system by suppressing prostaglandin series 1 & 2.

An important study just published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows “A high intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from foods and supplements could increase the risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer by 71%.”

When a dietary supplement of EFA’s is desired it is very important to seek one with the correct balance of GLA and EPA/DHA. If one is taking a fish oil supplement it is recommended to also take an Evening Primrose Oil supplement to provide the balancing GLA.

The ideal supplement should include Vitamins A, D and E as they are synergists to EFA’s. Like GLA and EPA/DHA, Vitamins A and D are necessary for the health of all cells and Vitamin E is vital to the metabolism of unsaturated fatty acids as well as acting as an antioxidant protecting the EFA’s from oxidative damage. Also a premium multi vitamin/mineral/enzyme supplement is essential to provide the necessary nutrients which assist in the body’s natural conversion process.