Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because they cannot be produced by the body itself. They must be ingested with food. Strictly speaking, only the doubly unsaturated linoleic acid and the triply unsaturated alpha-linoleic acid are essential fatty acids. Arachidonic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid and gamma-linoleic acid, on the other hand, are considered semi-essential. Under certain conditions, the body can produce them from alpha-linoleic acid. Essential fatty acids have a number of important functions. They are components of cell membranes, ensuring their stability and permeability. They are involved in many membrane transport processes and are important as starting substances of hormone-like substances. Linoleic acid, for example, plays a significant role in the transport of cholesterol. It is a component of lecithin and an important energy supplier. Normally, essential fatty acids are present in the CIS arrangement, a specific molecular arrangement. If unsaturated fatty acids are industrially hydrogenated (margarine production), the CIS arrangement changes, resulting in trans fatty acids without essential properties. An adult needs at least 10 g of essential fatty acids per day, pregnant and breastfeeding women have a significantly higher requirement. Trans fats are harmful to health. As solid, sticky fat molecules, they lodge in cell walls and can clog blood vessels. If you replace as little as 2% of trans fats with unsaturated, vegetable fats, you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 50%.
Essential fatty acids have biomedical significance and several vital functions. They prevent diseases and ensure smooth processes in the body. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are particularly important for strengthening the immune system, influence fat metabolism and the permeability and stability of cell membranes. They also have a positive influence in the treatment of chronic intestinal inflammations. Many studies have demonstrated the healing effect of alpha-linoleic acids on rheumatoid arthritis. Pain sensitivity decreased, as did morning stiffness. The administration of essential fatty acids also has positive effects on chronic inflammatory skin diseases. One of the most important essential fatty acids is linoleic acid. The triple-unsaturated alpha-linoleic acid and the six-unsaturated linoleic acid are found in foods such as nuts, seeds, grains and vegetables – in other words, exclusively plant-based foods. Safflower oil, poppy seed oil, black cumin oil, walnut oil and sunflower oil have many alpha-linoleic acids, while linseed oil even has a particularly high proportion. Just one teaspoon of linseed oil covers the daily requirement of alpha-linoleic acids. Another source of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids is sea fish. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are converted into DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the human body. This in turn plays a significant role in transmission processes in the brain. Essential fatty acids have a significant impact on health. They are suitable as a therapeutic measure for the prevention of arteriosclerosis and lipometabolic disorders, as they can lower cholesterol levels. They are also believed to have a blood pressure lowering effect. The ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to each other also plays a role in increasing or decreasing inflammatory processes. People who consume more unsaturated fatty acids also have a higher vitamin E requirement. This can easily be compensated for with appropriate foods or dietary supplements. Since essential fatty acids are very sensitive, oils should be protected from oxygen, light and heat. However, it is not always possible to optimize the diet in such a way that the necessary amount of essential fatty acids is consumed. In this case, dietary supplements are ideal, because you can take them as tablets or capsules, the need can be quickly balanced.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are polyunsaturated fatty acids. They belong to the class of omega-3 fatty acids. EPA is found in all living creatures, in larger quantities especially in fatty sea fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardine. DHA is produced by specific microalgae and occurs in all creatures that have these algae in their diet. This also includes sea fish, but DHA can also be enriched in chicken eggs, for example, by feeding the chickens with the algae. To a lesser extent, humans can produce the two fatty acids EPA and DHA themselves from plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. In the human body, for example, the mammary glands synthesize DHA, which is thus present in breast milk. However, these quantities produced by humans are not sufficient for the body, which means that an additional intake of the two fatty acids via food or dietary supplements is necessary.
EPA and DHA play an important role in many metabolic functions. In brain development, they are especially important for embryos and newborns. DHA is an integral membrane component, especially in nerve cells, and is found in very high amounts in the brain. The two fatty acids have a beneficial effect on blood lipid levels, as they lower triglycerides in the blood. They optimize the flow properties of the blood and thus reduce the risk of clotting. Blood pressure is lowered due to dilated and more elastic blood vessels. The fatty acids stabilize the heart muscle cells, which reduces the risk of cardiac rhythm disorders and heart attacks. Since EPA is a precursor of so-called eicosanoids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune system, EPA also protects against inflammatory joint diseases such as rheumatism. The positive effects of the two fatty acids have been shown in numerous studies. Currently, the influence on depression and dementia is still being investigated. Initial indications here also point to a positive effect. Two to three fish meals per week ensure a sufficient supply of EPA and DHA. There are also various foods enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, such as omega-3 bread, omega-3 margarine or eggs containing DHA. Those who do not like or cannot tolerate fish or are vegetarians can also take in the important fatty acids via dietary supplements in the form of capsules or tablets. The capsules usually contain fish oil. Vegetarians can switch to a variant with algae oil to ensure the EPA and DHA supply. A dietary supplement with Omgea-3 fatty acids is particularly important for people with an increased need. These include patients with cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory joint diseases, competitive athletes and pregnant women.
There are different types of fatty acids. The saturated fatty acids, which are mainly found in animal food, and the unsaturated fatty acids, which are mainly of plant origin. Two of the unsaturated fatty acids are essential for humans: the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid and the omega-6 fatty acids gamma-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Humans can form all other fatty acids themselves from the fatty acids they ingest, including the omega-9 fatty acid, which is also unsaturated, the oleic acids.
For optimal nutrition, there must be a healthy balance between the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and the intake of omega-6 fatty acids. If too little of the omega-3 fatty acid is absorbed, it will throw the body out of balance. A ratio of 1:2 to 1:4 of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is considered ideal. Most Western diets tend to have a ratio of 1:15 to 1:20.
Linseed oil contains the highest level of omega-3 fatty acids, but alpha-linolenic acid must first be broken down into the components eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) before it is available to the body. Although fish oil contains relatively less omega-3 fatty acid, it already consists of EPA and DHA and can be utilized directly by the body.
Rapeseed oil also contains a great deal of omega-3 fatty acid. However, omega-3 fatty acids do not tolerate heating and therefore canola oil taken for cooking or frying does not contribute to the supply of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in superior amounts in safflower oil (148:1) or even sunflower oil (122:1). Although omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, an undersupply is very unlikely.
Omega-9 fatty acids, which are also unsaturated but non-essential, are found mainly in peanut oil (46.8 gr/100 gr), sesame oil (39.5 gr/100 gr) and corn oil (24.8 gr/100 gr). However, it is most abundant in olive oil, where it represents about 70% of the total amount of fat.
The effects of the various unsaturated fatty acids on the body are manifold and elementary for a healthy life. Omega-3 fatty acids can be safely taken in the form of fish oil capsules or linseed oil capsules. Capsules or tablets contain the daily requirement without the possibly unpleasant taste of linseed oil and without the need to consume more fish. Omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids are also available in capsule form, but it is relatively easy to meet the requirements of these fatty acids by consuming sunflower oil and olive oil, respectively.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatory, they play an important role in the diet during rheumatoid arthritis and similar inflammatory diseases. They also protect the heart, prevent type 2 diabetes mellitus, can alleviate depression and schizophrenia, and significantly increase cognitive performance.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids play an extremely important role in the immune system, blood vessels and muscles, the structure of cell membranes and all metabolic processes. In addition, omega-6 fatty acids are needed for the insulation of brain and nerve cells. However, if the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is derailed and excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are consumed, the omega-6 fatty acids can cause damage to the hormonal system and increase inflammatory tendencies. Therefore, good attention should be paid to the ratio to omega-3 fatty acids. Any ratio that exceeds 1:5 of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is considered a health concern.
Omega-9 fatty acids
Oleic acid, which is predominantly found in olive oil, has a blood pressure-lowering and heart-protecting effect. It also improves cholesterol levels and has an interesting effect of being fungicidal in intestinal fungi. Oleic acid, although not an essential fatty acid, has such a serious effect on blood pressure and heart health that it should always be eaten in abundance.
DHA is a long-chain, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid.
The three letters stand for the chemical name docosahexaenoid.
Omega-3 is the name given to the group of fatty acids that are found in our food only in small quantities and yet fulfill important functions for the human metabolism.
All omega-3 fatty acids – in addition to DHA, also ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)- are chemically similar to each other. The human organism is even able to convert them into each other. However, because our body is not able to produce the basic structure of omega-3 fatty acids itself, it depends on the supply through food. Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna. However, due to the increasing pollution of the world’s oceans, there are at the same time warnings against too frequent consumption of these fish, which are now polluted by environmental toxins. Fortunately, it is also possible to cover the need for DHA through certain vegetable oils, at least partially. Rapeseed oil and linseed oil, for example, make a significant contribution to supplying the metabolism with omega-3 fatty acids.
However, in order to maintain a sufficiently high level of DHA, it is advisable to cover the increased requirement in pregnancy, convalescence, old age, but also already in young and middle years as an anti-aging measure in synthetic form. This is done by DHA dietary supplements as capsules or tablets.
In the meantime, DHA is available on the open market as a dietary supplement in capsule or tablet form. Research results of the last decades have shown how important the supply of essential omega-3 fatty acids is for the smooth functioning of various metabolic functions.
Pregnant women are advised to take DHA for the proper development of the embryo.
There is also an increased need for DHA during breastfeeding, in cases of visual problems and for the prevention of age-related retinal detachment. Medication for depression is supported by the dietary supplement DHA in capsule or tablet form, as is the treatment of diabetes, cardiac insufficiency and hyperactivity syndrome.
Asthma, various forms of cancer, hay fever and kidney and lung diseases also respond well to additional administration of DHA, usually in combination with other omega-3 fatty acids.
The positive effect of DHA administration is based on the ability of this fatty acid to have an anti-inflammatory effect and to improve blood circulation.
There are still no binding data on the required dose. However, most research groups now believe that a daily intake of 250-500 mg of DHA, often combined with other omega-3 fatty acids, is reasonable.