Essential Fatty Acids are polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs). They perform a number of important functions. There are several types of PUFAs, the main ones being Omega 3 (Alpha-Linolenic Acid W3) and Omega 6 (Linoleic Acid W6). They are important for the body's normal growth and development.
Omega 3 oils play a significant role in the brain, the cardiovascular system, immune function, physical performance, and bone health. They also play a role in the transfer of Oxygen from the air into the lungs, across the membranes of the red blood cells to the haemoglobin and then from the red blood cells into cells and the mitochondria, to be then utilised for the production of energy. Omega 6 oils play an important role in regulating genes and promoting immune health and blood clotting.
Omega 3 and 6 are part of the structural component of the cell's phospholipid wall. They interact with proteins in the cell wall to transfer electrons and energy, and are also involved in the production of Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, Thromboxanes, and Lipoxins. These act locally and play a significant role in inflammation. All the cells, except erythrocytes, are involved in their production.
Prostaglandins play a role in the contraction and relaxation of blood vessels, and inflammation. They can be pro or anti-inflammatory dependent upon which Omega is being synthesised. Generally Omega 6 are Both anti and Pro-inflammatory while Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory. Thromboxanes are involved in the constriction of blood vessels and blood clotting. Leukotrienes cause a tightening of airway muscles and the production of excess mucus and fluid. They also synthesise Lipoxins which are anti-inflammatory and help resolve excess inflammation.
Omega 6 oils tend to be more abundant within a typical diet, and Arachidonic acid is easily obtained from meat sources, and when synthesised lead to pro-inflammatory conditions. It is believed that the average western diet has an imbalance between the Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Historically the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 was closer to 1:1. It is now closer to 25:1, shifting the body's response to a more inflammatory condition. The body uses the same enzymes to break down the Fatty Acids into the necessary Prostaglandins. Therefore an excess Omega 6 to Omega 3 within the diet will also promote a more inflammatory condition, through interfering with the conversion of Omega 3 fatty acids. Hemp oil tends to have the better ratio of Omega 6 to 3 between 2:1 to 3:1. It is important to stress however that pro-inflammatory prostaglandins play an essential role in the body's inflammatory response.
Acting on the phospholipid cell membrane the enzyme Phospholipase A2 releases Arachidonic acid. This pathway can be inhibited by the actions of; Vitamin E, Quercetin, Turmeric and Liquorice, and further along the pathway by Ginger and Turmeric which inhibit the enzyme responsible for producing the Series 2 pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Onion, Garlic, Turmeric, Quercetin and Vitamin E inhibits the production of inflammatory leukotrienes. Other inhibitors of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins are EPA and DHA produced by Omega 3 oils. If the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is too high this will inhibit the production of EPA and DHA.
The difficulty for most diets is obtaining enough EPA and DHA. The body does not convert Omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) as easily due to the issues stated above. Fatty oily fish tend to have plentiful amounts of both EPA and DHA. Vegans may consider supplementing their diet with a good source of both EPA and DHA. However if the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 was more balanced this may not be such an issue.
Flax seeds are a good source of W3, but one needs to be grind the seeds so that the body can assimilate the Omega 3 content. They also contain; Lecithin, Carotene and Vitamin E, and mucilage which acts as a buffer for excess acid. Other properties of Flax seeds are that they prevents the reabsorption of cholesterol, produce a laxative effect, helps stabilise and modulate blood glucose level, and are a good source of minerals and some Vitamins; E, B1, B2, and C. They also contain Lignans which have, anti viral, anti fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties.