Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are those fatty acids that the body doesn’t produce, and thus can only be received through diet and supplementation. The two groups of essential fatty acids are omega-6 (linolenic acid) and omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA). EFAs play a vital role in many body functions, including oxygen diffusion in the bloodstream, hemoglobin production, immune response, brain development and modulation of insulin and blood sugar levels. They also improve mental processing and support calm by increasing the body’s ability to handle stress.
Several studies have demonstrated the heart-protective qualities of omega-3s. This group of EFAs can be found in many dietary sources, including vegetable oils. In fact, the average American consumes a ratio of 20-to-1 omega-6s to omega-3s, when that ratio should be closer to 4-to-1. Supplements derived from fish oil are the primary source to address this imbalance, though hemp oil and flax oil offer vegetarians a source for omega-3s. Fish oil contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both members of the omega-3 family. Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, these oils help with a wide variety of disorders, such as Crohn’s disease.
Essential fatty acids that come from the sea, specifically omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), address different health needs. They've shown benefits in treating Crohn's disease, diabetes, eczema, psoriasis, hypertension, memory loss and rheumatoid arthritis. DHA is especially critical in brain development, so DHA intake is very important for pregnant mothers and infants.