According to pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm, the benefits of essential fatty acids (EFAs) are realized through a diet that includes fish, nuts, seeds, or by dietary supplements that include certain oils, because the body does not manufacture these fatty acids naturally. EFAs are important for the synthesis of prostaglandins that reduce inflammation, contribute to normal brain and reproductive functioning, boost calcium absorption, regulate sleep, and affect pain tolerance, among other important actions in the body.
There are two categories of these important fatty acids, explains Marla Ahlgrimm. The omega-3 fatty acids (linolenic acid) come primarily from cold-water fish and certain nuts and seeds. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) include seeds and oils, flax, sunflower, sesame, and safflower, as well as the less healthy soybean and com oils.
With increased attention on the benefits of EFAs, says Marla Ahlgrimm, many women have eagerly added these substances to their diet, increasing the amount of fish they eat, grinding flax seed, snacking on handfuls of nuts, or supplementing with borage or primrose oil. However, women are frequently unaware of the importance of the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Too much omega-6 may actually act as an antagonist to omega-3, curbing its benefits. This is not always new information for health conscious women-much has been made of the fact that the typical American diet, high in processed fats, contains much omega-6 but usually very little omega-3.
A healthy diet that includes fish, nuts, and seeds regularly can provide the EFAs you need, in a simple and practical way, advises Marla Ahlgrimm. Remember to keep portions of nuts and seeds small-a very small handful delivers plenty of EFAs. Some women prefer EFA supplements, often because they do not enjoy eating fish. In fact, Americans rank practically last in the world in fish consumption, reports Marla Ahlgrimm. An EFA supplement from a reliable source will contain the appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6.
Omega-9 is also beneficial, says Marla Ahlgrimm, although it is not technically an EFA. Omega-9 is oleic acid, found in olive oil. It is not considered an EFA because unlike omega-3 and -6, the body can manufacture omega-9 in small amounts. Dressing your salad with olive oil, or adding it to soup, bean, and vegetable dishes is an easy and delicious way to add this important substance to your diet, too.