Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) should be part of the diet. Some are considered very beneficial while others can contribute to poor health. EFA’s play a vital role in maintaining the health of every cell membrane in the body, are a major source of energy for the body and aid in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carotenoids. EFA’s are important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health.  EFA’s come from cold water fish, grass fed beef, plant fruits and nuts and seeds.

Signs and symptoms of EFA deficiency include an array of skin conditions, such as: dry skin, cracking/peeling of the fingertips and heels, calluses on the feet, small, red colored bumps on the back of the upper arms and excessive ear wax. Other signs are dry scalp and hair, dandruff, brittle and lackluster hair. Also, soft, fraying, dull, splitting or brittle fingernails and slow growing fingernails.  Deficiency may also produce dry mouth/throat and dry eyes.   Menstrual cramps, premenstrual breast pain/tenderness, joint pain and stiffness may be signs of deficiency along with craving fats or fatty foods.

According to Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, author of the book, The Schwarzbein Principle, other symptoms of fat deprivation in the diet may also include: “…constipation, infertility, insomnia, mood swings, and loss of lean body mass with body-fat gain around the middle and craving carbohydrates and stimulants.”

Considered the bad fats, trans fats, are also known as hydrogenated or saturated fats. These fats are chemically altered to remain solid at room temperature, to increase their shelf life and to stabilize the flavor in foods that contain them.  Trans fats are very heart unfriendly.  They can raise the LDL’s (bad cholesterol) that can increase inflammation in the blood vessels producing an environment to make plaque stickier and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

A type of healthy trans fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) occurs naturally in grass fed beef.  The milk and meat fat from this type of grass fed beef has been shown to be very protective to the body. The benefits of CLA include its antioxidant protective ability, it encourages muscle growth, it regulates and controls fat metabolism and studies have found that CLA accelerates fat weight loss.

Omega 3 fatty acids, aka EPA/DHA fish oil is found in cold water fish such as wild salmon, herring and mackerel.  Overall Omega 3 fatty acids tend to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and arthritis pains. EPA is believed to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and the inflammatory process, while DHA is necessary for proper brain and nerve development.

While flaxseed does not contain the fish oil components of EPA/DHA, it is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body can break down into EPA/DHA in the presence of a well balanced digestive track. ALA does not store well or tolerate the heat from cooking. Therefore it is best to grind the flax seed as needed.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) recommends a maximum dose of 3 grams of EPA/DHA per day for a 150 pound person.  Functional Medicine testing is available to assess the status of EFA’s in a person.  Considering the vast amount of signs of deficiency and the benefits EFA’s have, testing is well worth the cost.

While it is important to get these essential oils in the diet, persons taking blood thinner medication or those with diabetes should consult with your health care provider to determine whether these nutrients work in your best interest.