Both Linoleic Acid (Omega 6) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Omega 3) are essential in our diets. There are various deficiency symptoms that can arise from insufficient EFAs, ranging from liver degeneration to growth retardation, and from high triglyceride levels to dry skin. Athletes have reported increased stamina and faster injury healing while supplementing their diets with Omega 3 EFA, consisting of 1-5 tablespoons of flax seed oil per day (suggested dosage = 3 tablespoons per day until skin feels smooth, velvety and supple, then maintain with 1-2 tablespoons). Although there is much to learn about EFAs, there are a few things we do know.
Most important, EFAs attract oxygen, and this makes them highly effective in energy production. The ability to increase oxidation in the body indicates that EFAs help to govern growth, our mental state (required for normal brain development in children), and health in general. They also hold oxygen within cell membranes, where oxygen acts as a barrier to foreign organisms such as bacteria and viruses.
EFAs are part of all cell membranes and membranes of various cell constituents (e.g., mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, nucleus, nucleolus). Since they hold proteins in the membrane, they play a role in the movement of substances in and out of cells via protein channels and pumps.
EFAs are precursors (a substance that precedes another substance) of prostaglandins. EFAs require vitamins A, B3, B6, and C and the minerals zinc and magnesium to become prostaglandins. Insufficient amounts of these vitamins and minerals could mimic EFA deficiency, although EFAs may be abundantly supplied in the diet. However, on a well balanced diet, these vitamins and minerals are adequately supplied.
The United Stated Recommended Dietary Allowance (USRDA), as with most nutritionists, has not agreed upon the recommended daily allowance for EFAs. It has been suggested that about 4-5% of calories in the form of Linoleic Acid and Alpha-Linolenic Acid is sufficient to prevent deficiency symptoms. Although we often consume sufficient Omega-6 fatty acids, Omega-3 fatty acids may be limited in most diets. Nutritionists have been recommending an increase in seafood consumption to make up for this deficiency. Here are some examples of EFA content in seafood per 100g/3.5 oz serving:
Atlantic mackerel 2.6 g sardines (canned) 1.0 g flounder 0.2 g Pacific herring 1.8 g brook trout 0.6 g scallops 0.2 g bluefin tuna 1.6 g catfish 0.5 g swordfish 0.2 g albacore tuna 1.5 g pollock 0.5 g sole 0.1 g chinook salmon 1.5 g Alaska king crab 0.3 g clams (trace) Atlantic salmon 1.4 g Atlantic cod 0.3 g bluefish 1.2 g shrimp 0.3 g It is also becoming common practice for the health-conscious to supplement their diets with EFA oils, including flax, hemp, primrose, and safflower.
When buying oils, make certain of the following:
The bottle/container must not allow excess light to penetrate the oil; this produces free radicals that accelerate the reaction with oxygen several hundred times faster, resulting in rancidity. The more unsaturated the fat, the more likely it will become rancid, unless adding an antioxidant, eg: vitamin E.
The bottle/container must be airtight to avoid the break down of EFAs, to avoid rancidity.
Keep EFAs in a cool location and avoid cooking with them since heat destroys EFAs. The package/bottle should be shelf-dated and the method of manufacturing listed on the label.
Avoid supplementing the diet with EFAs that contain only omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids since they both compete for the same enzymes in the body and this may result in deficiency of the other.