As we have said on some occasions, fatty acids are very important to keep our body in good condition. We talked with Dr. Helena Rutllant about those basic things we should know concerning fatty acids.
What are fatty acids and what benefits do they have for our body?
We could say that they are an essential part of the composition of most fats and oils that we can find in the natural environment and in living things. They have ESSENTIAL functions for the proper functioning of the body:
- Energy function: are energetic molecules and necessary in all cellular processes. If we don’t have enough glucose to get energy, the body will burn fatty acids to get it.
- Structural function: are molecules necessary for the constitution of the cell membrane of all the cells of our organism.
- Regulatory function: some fatty acids are precursors of molecules with great biological activity involved in the inflammatory response, smooth muscle contraction, blood coagulation processes, etc
There are essentially two types of fatty acids:
- Saturated: are those that can be found, for example, in animal fats and are not the most recommended.
- Unsaturated: we will distinguish within this group polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. For example, one of the most important and most familiar polyunsaturated fatty acids we can be with is Omega 3.
These fatty acids are known as essential because the human body cannot make them from other substances, they have to be ingested through the diet and they are necessary for the development of such important functions as blood pressure, lipid metabolism, coagulation, the regulation of inflammatory processes, the proper functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, among others.
Which are some of the effects of omega-3s on health?
As we said in the previous section, omega-3 acids have cardiovascular effects (blood pressure, lipid metabolism, coagulation etc.), we could say that it exerts a cardio protective effect.
Also modulation of the inflammatory response (produces anti-inflammatory molecules), impact on the development and function of the CNS (central nervous system), etc.
Does our body naturally produce fatty acids? If not, where can we find them?
Our body can naturally produce fatty acids, but cannot produce the essential ones, as we have detailed above. These can be found especially in blue fish, nuts (nuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts …), seeds (flaxseed, chia, sunflower …), olive oil, etc.
A varied diet can provide us with this type of fatty acids, but in many cases the food can be accompanied by other substances that we are not interested in having stored in our body, it would be the case of mercury, lead cadmium, tin, arsenic, cobalt or copper We found in some of our fish and / or seafood.
We must limit the consumption of those species that present higher percentages, which is why, given the type of diet we face today, full of refined products, industrial pastries, fried foods, sausages, processed and precooked foods, it is easy to diagnose an imbalance in the intake of quality essential fatty acids.
Regardless of a change in our diet, in most cases to compensate for this imbalance, the addition or direct contribution of these beneficial fatty acids is necessary over a period of time that obviously must be agreed upon by a healthcare professional.
What is the recommended daily amount of fatty acids?
Here we should point out that, rather than talking about fatty acids, the correct thing would be to talk about that % of the total daily energy intake should come from essential fatty acids and age should be taken into account (babies don´t have the same need as adults), pregnancy and lactation also mark different needs, the existence of concomitant diseases or disorders, etc.
What is the relationship between fatty acids and brain?
Fatty acids play an important role in the development of the central nervous system, so during pregnancy the needs are increased, since there is a growth of the nervous tissue of the fetus.
DHA is especially important since it is part of the neuronal membranes, the fetus will receive these fatty acids from the mother through the placenta, but if it does not increase its daily intake in both pregnancy and lactation it could cause a deficiency in the mother who could even contribute to the onset of postpartum depression, as has been proven in some studies.
Different studies have recently demonstrated the role of AA and DHA in brain development, during pregnancy, breastfeeding and throughout the entire life cycle.
DHA has been shown to improve mental development in children, as it slows cognitive decline related to age and to patients diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases, as well as their role in macular degeneration.
It is estimated that almost 5% of the population of school age in the US have an ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) percentages quite similar to the population of European school age. This disorder involves lack of attention, inability to complete tasks, hyperactivity and / or impulsivity. Almost 25% of these children with ADHD have problems with math, spelling or reading. Various scientific evidence and clinical studies have reported a relationship between ADHD and deficiencies of certain long-chain fatty acids (EPA, DHA and AA).
It has also been seen that adequate consumption of EPA and GLA (precursors of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins) reduces certain complications during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, proteinuria and edema …
Remember that the safest source of GLA is evening primrose, since borage can contain food toxins such as pyrrolizid alkaloids.
Do fatty acids also have an important role in inflammatory processes? What can you tell us about this?
The anti-inflammatory activity of fatty acids is explained through the synthesis of prostaglandins, molecules that are not stored like hormones, when synthesized they are released to perform their effect immediately.
The omega 3 family will produce type 3 prostaglandins (EPA will produce PG3) with an effect on vasodilation, platelet activation and inflammation (anti-inflammatory action).
The omega 6 family will produce prostaglandins type 1 and 2 (GLA will produce PGE1) with the same action as PG3.
The inflammatory PG2 would be produced by the AA, but when we combine EPA with the GLA we avoid the passage to AA, which benefits us twice.
That is why we must insist that, without an adequate contribution of EPA and GLA, the synthesis of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins will be reduced, increasing the production of prostaglandins in group 2 (pro-inflammatory). This will lead to an imbalance between omega 3 and omega 6 causing a chronic inflammation of low grade, also known as silent inflammation that will lead to chronic diseases.
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, asthma, skin and mucous diseases can benefit from treatment with essential fatty acids by reducing some of the symptoms as determined by some scientific studies.
Maimonides, a 12th-century philosopher, said that “any disease that can be cured by diet should not be treated in any other way.”