What are Essential Fatty Acids?

I am a naturopathic physician with nearly 20 years of experience developing breakthrough nutritional products.I also have extensive television and radio experience and have lectured widely to health professionals, the military and the public on all aspects of natural health.

Dr Myers, an expert who holds a doctorate in naturopathic medicine

Stephen Fry in my surgery during the making of the BBC TV program

Me with Lord Bragg, accepting my "Champion of the Year" award

After graduating, I was recognised as being the 'best young neurosurgeon in Britain'

Learning what the body needs is the first step to creating a healthier life. When a person isn’t equipped with the appropriate knowledge, this can lead to poor choices when it comes to their diet as well as supplementation for the diet. With the latest media coverage on various things a person can add to their diet, it has become difficult to ascertain the truth from the fiction. In the case of essential fatty acids, this is certainly the situation.

Essential fatty acids were discovered, for lack of a better term, in the late 1920s, but grouped into the term Vitamin K in order to relate these similar nutrients. However, as further research was done in the 1930s, scientists found that essential fatty acids were actually separate entities that need to be categorised as such. There are two forms of essential fatty acids that are most recognisable to the public – omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids.

The chain of essential fatty acids can be short or long, depending on the number of pieces on each fatty strand. And this is indicated in the name – with 3 fatty acid chains being shorter than 4 fatty acid chains.

What Makes These Acids Essential?

These essential fatty acids are deemed essential because the body itself can not create them on their own. A person must take these into their bodies through diet in order to maintain health levels of these nutrients. These fatty acids can regulate everything from the person’s mood and energy level to cellular function. Many of the fatty acids work in the body to prevent inflammation of the tissues and to promote healthy activities in the cells themselves. The way that messages are transmitted from cell to cell is also a direct result of the presence of fatty acids, making them highly effective in maintaining a healthy nervous system.

In order to maintain healthy growth patterns in the body, scientists have found that essential fatty acids need to be added to the diet. Metabolism in the body is also regulated by these fatty acids. For those that are concerned about their heart health, essential fatty acids have also been shown to help maintain healthy heart function and even have the potential to help with prior heart damage.

Where Can These Essential Fatty Acids Be Found?

Because of their growing popularity, essential fatty acids are becoming much more visible in your local grocery marts and pre-packaged foods. Manufacturers are adding these essential acids to neatly everything, adding to the fortification of the everyday diet. Some stores are carrying eggs with added essential fatty acids as well as breads and cereals with these helpful nutrients.

But naturally, these essential fatty acids can be found in a number of sources as well. The most frequently suggested sources are nuts, fish, and fish oils. Nuts and seeds are easy to add to the everyday diet as well as simple to find in your local grocer. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds have the highest content of essential fatty acids, while walnuts are recommended too. Fatty fishes like salmon and tuna are some of the best sources of EFAs, but nearly any fish will have a fair amount of acids to add to your diet.

You can also find essential fatty acids in seeds like flaxseeds that can be easily crushed and placed into any dish without noticing a difference. Oils like flaxseed, canola, hemp and soya are also easy to add to your cupboards to help increase your EFA levels.

There are low levels of EFAs in leafy vegetables as well, so adding these vegetables to your diet is not a bad idea.

Some people find that taking supplements like fish oils and flaxseed oils is an easier way to ingest their needed EFAs without having to step in the kitchen. These can be easily found through online websites as well as at health food stores and at local grocers. Following the directions on the package is recommended, though most doctors will say that 0.65 grams of Omega 3s is enough while Omega 6s should be up into the 4.44 grams per day range.

Other Benefits to Using Essential Fatty Acids in Your Life

By adding these various foods to your diet, you will not only begin to help your body regulate various activities, but you can also see outward results as well. Adding fats to your diet allows your skin and hair to be more supple and shiny, which can aid in reducing wrinkles and outward signs of sun damage. Many facial professionals recommend adding capsules of essential fatty acids to your diet to help protect the skin and nurture it from environmental damages in addition to drinking more water.


Using essential fatty acids in your diet is strongly encouraged if you want to maintain a healthy body and appearance. Though these acids are easy to find in nutrition, they are often hard to ingest in large amounts, so supplementation is never a bad idea.

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