EFA (Essential Fatty Acid)
Type 3 Requirement

EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement: Overview

Alternative names: EFA Type 3, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Omega-3 Fats, Omega-3, LNA, N-3 fats, Alpha-Linolenic Acid, α-Linolenic Acid

Essential Fatty Acid Type 3, or Omega-3, is one of two fatty acids that are essential to human health because they cannot be synthesized by the body (the other is Omega-6).  Omega-3 can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, inhibiting blood clots and preventing irregular heart rhythms.

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Aside from its contribution to heart health, Omega-3 has many other health benefits, including:

It is important to note that both Omega-3 and Omega-6 require the same enzymes in the body to be utilized efficiently.  Therefore a very high intake of Omega-6 can result in a deficiency of Omega-3 regardless of how much is consumed because there are insufficient enzymes to manage both the excess Omega-6 and the necessary Omega-3. The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 intake is 2:1.

The Omega-3 family of superunsaturates comprises LNA and the down-line metabolites eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  If LNA is provided by foods, our cells make DHA and EPA.

Incidence; Causes and Development; Contributing Risk Factors

Omega-3 deficiency is rare among healthy individuals who consume a varied diet.  It is more common in those with malabsorption disorders, and those on highly fat-restrictive diets.  The recommended daily amount for women is 1.1 grams and for men it is 1.6 grams.

An Omega-3 deficiency can result from inadequate dietary intake or inefficient metabolism of fats, which in turn can be due to genetic predispositions or vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Individuals who have difficulty digesting and absorbing fats are at higher risk of an Omega-3 deficiency.

Signs and Symptoms

Indications of possible Omega-3 deficiency include:

  • Dry/dull hair
  • Dandruff
  • Rough/dry skin
  • Soft or brittle nails
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry Eyes
  • Frequent urination
  • Sleep problems
  • Attention problems
  • Emotional sensitivity (irritability, mood swings, frustration)

Diagnosis and Tests

Laboratory tests such as the Red Blood Cell Fatty Acid Analysis or the Fatty Acid Profile will help confirm EFA deficiency.  A home test called 'Opti-O-3' is a small finger prick test that provides a full fatty acid profile.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment of an Omega-3 deficiency involves both minimizing factors that prohibit utilization of Omega-3 and reversing the deficiency through diet or supplementation.  Research has shown that obtaining Omega-3s from plant sources provides a more stable from of alpha-linolenic acid.  Flax and hemp seeds are a particularly good source of Omega-3. Other plant sources rich in Omega-3 include:

  • Walnuts
  • Flax meal
  • Soybeans
  • Mungo beans
  • Wheat germ
  • Canola oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Perilla oil
  • Echium seeds

Non-plant-based sources include:

  • Anchovies
  • Bluefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Lake trout
  • Sturgeon

It is also advisable to avoid substances that will inhibit the absorption of Omega-3. These include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Processed foods
  • High intakes of saturated/trans fat
  • Excess Omega-6
  • Nicotine

When the conversion of EFAs to their derivatives is inhibited in some way, DHA from black currant seed oil, or EPA and DHA from fish oils and northern ocean algae can be given.

A study on elderly Japanese patients demonstrated that blood levels of the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA increase after prolonged consumption of ALA from a plant-based oil.  The change is slow and requires about 10 months of supplementation.  However, the result of the study suggests that supplementation with ALA from flax oil may to some degree have the same beneficial role as supplementation with fish oil.  This news may be particularly interesting to people following a vegetarian diet or for those who do not eat fish products. [Journal of Nutrition Science Vitaminol, December 1999]

Prognosis; Complications

An untreated deficiency will lead to deficiency symptoms and overall inefficient functioning of the body.

A deficiency during pregnancy can lead to impaired fetal growth and brain development, and when breastfeeding it can lead to an inadequate amount in the breast milk.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement:

Symptoms - Nails

Symptoms - Nervous

Conditions that suggest EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement:

Addictions

Alcohol-related Problems

Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may contribute to depressive symptoms in alcoholism, multiple sclerosis and postpartum depression.

Autoimmune

Multiple Sclerosis

Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may contribute to depressive symptoms in alcoholism, multiple sclerosis and postpartum depression.

It is interesting to note that the incidence of MS is quite low in Japan, where consumption of marine foods, seeds, and fruit oil is quite high.  These foods contain abundant polyunsaturated fatty acids, including the omega-3 oils (alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, and docosahexanoic acids).  Deficiencies of the omega-3 oils are thought to interfere with lipid elongation and permanently impair formation of normal myelin.

Circulation

Coronary Disease / Heart Attack

Many studies have shown that higher omega-3 fatty acid intake can cut the rate of sudden cardiac death by nearly one-half, in both apparently healthy patients and those who have suffered a previous heart attack.

To better understand this protective effect, Danish researchers examined the dietary patterns and individual fatty acid status of nearly 300 patients with ischemic heart disease, comparing them with specific parameters of cardiac function.  They found that the patients who ate more fish had higher levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in their blood cell membranes and in their fat cells.  A higher level of two specific fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – especially within the cell membrane – was associated with higher heart rate variability in the patients.  An increased heart rate variability indicates healthier pulse regulation, and appears to significantly reduce the risk of arrhythmia and cardiac death.

Stroke

Consuming cold water fish (and probably omega-3 fatty acids) reduced the incidence of stroke in women by 28 percent.  This study demonstrated a reduction in clotting type strokes, without an increase in hemorrhagic strokes.

Female-Specific

Painful Menstruation (Dysmenorrhea)

In a double-blind placebo-controlled study among a group of girls suffering from dysmenorrhea, it was found that the symptoms could be significantly reduced by dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids.  This particular study used fish oil. [ American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, April 1996;174(4): pp.1335-1338]

Infections

Lab Values

High Levels Of Triglycerides

Omega-3 fatty acids can have a profound effect on lowering triglyceride levels.

Mental

Depression

Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may contribute to depressive symptoms in alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, postpartum depression and bipolar depression.  An insufficiency of omega-3 oils in the diet, especially the metabolite DHA, has been linked to depression.

Panic Attacks

In one study, 3 out of 4 patients with panic attacks or a history of agoraphobia for 10 or more years improved within 3 months after taking flaxseed oil.

Musculo-Skeletal

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Aching, swollen joints may just be demanding the right kind of oil.  Shifting the body's balance toward omega-3 oils and away from omega-6 oils significantly alleviates symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, according to a recent study in the Journal of Rheumatology.

Skin-Hair-Nails

Psoriasis

A diet low in essential fatty acids can cause various health problems, including making skin conditions such as dandruff, psoriasis and eczema worse.

Urinary

Urinary Stress/Urge Incontinence

Flax seed oil at 1 Tablespoon per day is sometimes recommended because it can reduce inflammation contributing to an overactive bladder.

Risk factors for EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement:

Autoimmune

Lupus, SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus)

There is a possible defect in the metabolism of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).  In order to verify this possibility, doctors in one study measured the plasma levels of various EFAs and their metabolites in SLE.  These results showed that amongst SLE patients the concentrations of Omega-6 and Omega-3 oils or metabolites were low.  Even small doses of fish oils (which contain EPA and DHA) have been shown to help.

Symptoms - Food - Intake

Low cold water fish consumption or not eating cold water fish

More salmon for consumption are now raised in captivity than caught in the wild.  These fish are fed corn meal, soy and canola oil.  When the fish are fed these foods, the concentration of their fats turns far away from the ideal beneficial 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and turns closer to the 20:1 found in commercially-raised beef.  This means that salmon raised in salt water pens contain substantially less omega-3 oil than wild salmon, and can no longer be considered a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids unless clearly identified as 'wild caught'.  Also, pigments are added to the artificially-raised salmon to ensure a pink color. [Seattle Times, September 02, 2001]

Counter-indicators
Moderate cold water fish consumption

More salmon for consumption are now raised in captivity than caught in the wild.  These fish are fed corn meal, soy and canola oil.  When the fish are fed these foods, the concentration of their fats turns far away from the ideal beneficial 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and turns closer to the 20:1 found in commercially-raised beef.  This means that salmon raised in salt water pens contain substantially less omega-3 oil than wild salmon, and can no longer be considered a good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids unless clearly identified as 'wild caught'.  Also, pigments are added to the artificially-raised salmon to ensure a pink color. [Seattle Times, September 02, 2001]

Symptoms - Mind - Emotional

History of 'baby blues' or history of postpartum depression

Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid deficiency may contribute to depressive symptoms in alcoholism, multiple sclerosis and postpartum depression.

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EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement suggests the following may be present:

Nutrients

EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement can lead to:

Circulation

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

One study found that high dose fish oil can produce a small but significant reduction in blood pressure in men with essential hypertension. [NEJM, April 20, 1989;320: pp.1037-1043.]

Atherosclerosis

While there has been much emphasis on low fat diets, there are some intriguing studies that show that a low fat diet may actually increase LDLs and that it may be more important to alter the fats in the diet, decreasing saturated fats and trans fatty acids, and replacing them with poly- and mono-unsaturated fats.  Hydrogenated oils are at least, if not more, atherogenic than saturated fats.

Immunity

Recommendations for EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) Type 3 Requirement:

Supplements

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