Essential Fatty Acids

A Proper Balance for Proper Heart Health

A healthy balance of essential fatty acids is, well…essential if you and I are to have optimal heart health.

I can say that for at least two reasons…

Essential fatty acids are necessary for life. By that I mean they are essential for survival. Without them we would die.

Obviously we are both getting some. But are we getting a healthy balance? Are we getting enough of one type? Perhaps we are getting too much of another. Any gross imbalance – which is common in many diets – could increase our risk for chronic heart disease.

But this site is not dedicated to heart disease. It is dedicated to optimal heart health. Our goal is to go a step further than avoiding heart disease. We want to pursue every avenue toward the healthiest hearts possible. It is important to us. It is important to our families. I know it is important to mine.

So let’s spend a couple of moments considering the health importance of essential fatty acids (EFA). To do that we will cover the following points:

  • What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
  • How Is General Health Related to Proper EFA Balance?
  • How Is Heart Health Related to Proper EFA Balance?
  • What Steps Should We Take to Promote Our Own Optimal Heart Health?

So let’s begin at the beginning by asking…

What Are Essential Fatty Acids?

We already know they are essential for health and life. But they are called essential for another reason. Our bodies cannot manufacture them. Therefore it is necessary to consume them in our diet. If you and I don’t eat them in some way we simply do not get them.

You might have noticed that right in the middle of ‘essential fatty acids’ is the word “fat”. Perhaps you are making every effort to avoid fat. That is great if you mean saturated fats and trans-fats. But with some fats it takes a little more sophisticated approach than just avoiding them.

Chemically speaking EFAs are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. To beunsaturated requires that at least one bond between two carbon atoms is a double bond. (That is all the chemistry we will talk about for now.) 

Essential fatty acids are built from three other acids that must be a part of our diet. These are…

  • Linolenic acid
  • Linoleic acid
  • Oleic acid

From these three the omega fatty acids are built.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from linolenic acid.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are derived from linoleic acid.
  • Omega-9 fats are derived from oleic acid.

Parenthetically, omega-9 is necessary for proper health but is nottechnically "essential". The body can synthesize it if a sufficient supply of other essential fatty acids is present. For this reason we will focus on the other two. To do that we must ask…


Here’s a question for you…

Are you sick and tired of just not feeling great?

Are there health issues – in addition to your heart health – that concern you? Like…

Anxiety? Or not sleeping well? Or joint pain? Or low energy? Or poor digestion? Or weight gain? Or stress? Why do so many people suffer from these symptoms and others? Those nagging health issues that seem so difficult to define.

Did you know that these health problems – as well as more serious chronic diseases – can be the result of …

  • Your body holding on to too many toxins?
  • And chronic inflammation?
  • And pH and blood sugar imbalance?
  • And your elimination organs not working well?
  • And poor nutrition?
  •  And foods that stress your system?

Many people have come to realize this and have made changes to recapture their health. We have a great – FREE – resource we want you to have. Simply click the link below.

Click here to learn how you can regain your health. 


How Is General Health Related to Proper EFA Balance?

Let’s look beyond heart health for just a moment. Essential fatty acids are foundational for the building and maintenance of…

  • The reproductive system
  • The immune system
  • The nervous - including the brain - system

In general EFAs are necessary for the proper manufacture and repair of cell membranes. They aid the cells in obtaining optimal nutrition as well as the dispelling of harmful waste products.

One primary function of essential fatty acids is the production of prostaglandins. These are potent mediators for a diverse group of physiological processes. These processes include, but are not limited to, the regulation of…

  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • blood clotting ability
  • vasoconstriction
  • fertility
  • immune function

Of particular interest to those of us who are parents and grandparents are the effects of essential fatty acid deficiencies in children and infants. (Even the ones not yet born.) EFAs are imperative for neural development and maturation of sensory systems in our little ones. That’s why some companies now offer omega-3 supplements for children. You may email me for recommendations on this if you like.

Omega-3 deficiencies in particular are linked to…

  • decreased memory and mental abilities
  • poor vision
  • increased tendency of blood clot formation
  • diminished immune function
  • impaired membrane function
  • learning disorders
  • irregular heartbeat
  • growth retardation

Infants can become omega-3 deficient because of inadequate supplies in the mother’s milk as well as infant formulas. Because of this some formula manufactures fortify their products with omega-3 supplements. It is also important for the mother to get an adequate supply of omega-3.

There have also been a number of tests linking omega-3 intakes with other health issues such as…

  • skin disorders
  • eating disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • asthma
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • menstrual discomfort
  • several types of cancer

Of course we can’t pursue any details on the above mentioned conditions in relation to essential fatty acids. We are focused on optimal heart health. But I think it is important for us to be aware of the universal impact of essential fatty acid deficiencies and imbalance.

Our real focus is optimal heart health. So…

How Is Heart Health Related to Proper EFA Balance?

There are a number of heart health conditions that are affected by EFA imbalance. We will look at the ones that affect most of us. Each of these common heart ailments have sections dedicated to them elsewhere on this website. But let’s look at each of them briefly here. We will consider four things. They are…

Sudden Cardiac Death

Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) is not a heart attack. It is actually a sudden, unpredictable death due to heart failure. Death usually occurs within an hour of experiencing symptoms.

It is the number one natural killer among adults in the United States. SCD accounts for approximately 300,000 deaths per year. This represents an incidence of 0.1-0.2% per year in the adult population.

SCD is a sudden event - as the name implies. However, it usually occurs in people with some form of heart disease whether the person is aware of it or not. The underlying causes of sudden cardiac death are varied including…

  • arrhythmia (irregular heart beat).
  • atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries).
  • high lipid cholesterol.
  • heart damage due to previous heart attack.
  • congenital heart disease.

Essential fatty acid deficiencies have been tied to each of these conditions. In fact supplementing with omega-3 in research studies has been shown to…

  • have a controlling effect on the heart’s electrical pulse thereby regulating the heart’s rhythm and reducing the likelihood of fatal arrhythmias (SCD).
  • make blood platelets less 'sticky' thereby reducing atherosclerosis buildup.
  • have a balancing effect on cholesterol levels.
  • result in reduced mortality following a heart attack.

Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Eating a diet with a proper balance of essential fatty acids will normally balance your cholesterol and triglycerides.

Scientists first noticed this by observing the Inuit Eskimos. They had diets high in fat. Yet their population showed low incidence of heart disease.

Why? 

Because the fat they ate was high in omega-3 fatty acids

The Eskimos' blood platelets were less sticky reducing their likelihood of coronary heart disease. Further their cholesterol and triglycerides remained at healthy levels.

We see similar results among people who subsist on what has become known as the Mediterranean diet. It is a diet characterized by limited saturated fats. But it is high in omega-3.

By contrast the average American or European diet is pathetically low in omega-3. Omega-3 has been demonstrated to raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. It is very potent in its ability to lower triglycerides.

Blood Pressure

We have fallen for the lie that high blood pressure is a necessary part of aging. Diet has a remarkable influence on blood pressure.

Diets low in omega-3 and high in omega-6 cause blood pressure to rise. The imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 is responsible for a number of heart health issues. We simply get too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

To help control blood pressure we should reduce salt and omega-6 intake while increasing omega-3 intake.

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a nasty word for a nasty condition. It is most simply understood as ‘hardening’ of the arteries. 

It occurs over time as plaque builds up on the inside lining of our arteries. The blood vessels become constricted putting increased stress on the heart. Blood clots form and occasionally break loose leading to stroke. 

Atherosclerosis has been linked to multiple life-threatening conditions including stroke, heart attack and sudden cardiac death. Genetic factors do play a part. But so do our diets. We eat too many foods high in saturated fats and trans-fats. We also consume too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3.

Diets including adequate or high levels of essential fatty acids like omega-3 have been shown time and time again to not only help prevent atherosclerosis but also to treat the condition once it exists.

What Steps Should We Take?

It would be preposterous to assume that increasing essential fatty acid intake would wipe out all heart disease. But the fact is EFA deficiency (especially omega-3) is common in the United States and most developed countries.

Our careless diets have produced an epidemic of cardiac problems. Our diets can be a large part of the solution. Not only do we need to ingest sufficient amounts of EFAs but also in the right ratios.

For example, the benefits of adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids can be counterbalanced by a high intake of omega-6. An ideal omega-6/omega-3 ratio is considered to be between 1:1 and 4:1. However many diets in many developed countries consist of ratios between 10:1 and 25:1.

EFA deficiency and omega 6/3 imbalance is linked to serious health conditions including but not limited to…

  • heart attack
  • cancer
  • asthma
  • lupus
  • schizophrenia
  • depression
  • accelerated aging
  • stroke
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • insulin resistance
  • arthritis
  • sudden cardiac death
  • ADHD
  • Alzheimer's disease 

It is a sobering list. It goes without saying that EFA imbalance is not consistent with our goal to pursue optimal heart health.

Therefore it is imperative that we avoid foods high in omega-6. Omega-6 is essential but most of us get too much of it.

To counteract high levels of omega-6 we should consume foods high in omega-3. Cold-water fatty fish is your best source. Most of us don’t eat enough fish. We also worry about mercury in the fish we eat.

For this reason fish oil supplements have become a normal part of many people’s routine. Be sure to purchase good ones from a trusted source. You don’t want any extras like mercury.

Return from "Essential Fatty Acids Page" to "Triglycerides Main Page".

A Challenge For You!

People are making great improvements in their heart health.

How... are they doing it? By challenging themselves to change the way they eat. Really!

I have a challenge for you. It is my double dog dare.

Click here to learn about the 30_Day Challenge.

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