The health supplement industry is a large one. Walk into the average Western kitchen on a weekday morning and chances are that you’ll find at least one vitamin supplement being taken. In the US alone, supplements generate revenues of many billions of dollars every year. Yet most of these sales are concentrated in the vitamin and mineral category, leaving out some of the most important nutrients that humans need. Essential fatty acids are every bit as important as commonly-taken supplements, and many people simply aren’t getting enough of them from diet alone.
What Are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)?
Ever since the low fat diet fads of the 1980s, fat has had a bad name. However, this is unfair. In fact, without fats, human beings cannot function correctly. Moreover, there are a certain groups of fats which are not used for fuel, but which are involved in chemical reactions throughout the body. Similarly to vitamins, these cannot be manufactured, but must be taken in through the diet. This is where the ‘essential’ part of ‘essential fatty acids’ derives from. EFAs are beneficial compounds which affect inflammation, mood, and blood lipid levels.
Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3 oils, usually obtained from fatty fish, have received a fair amount of press over the past decade or so, with claims linking them to a whole range of health conditions, some of which are disingenuous. For example, there is no evidence that fish oil will make you more intelligent, no matter what certain brands may want you to believe. However, there is very strong evidence that the average person should be getting more omega 3s for other reasons. They have been shown to improve heart-related ailments such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease. Research is continuing into a whole range of illnesses including cancer, depression, and even schizophrenia.
Professional bodies and health authorities all over the developed world now recommend the consumption of fatty fish on at least a weekly basis. Those unable or unwilling to eat fish often may choose to take fish oil supplements instead.
Omega 6 Fats
Although they are still essential fats, supplementation of omega 6 oils is less common due to the fact that we already eat them in large amounts. Examples of omega 6 dietary sources include vegetable oil, olive oil, and nuts. However, that isn’t to say that extra amounts of certain omega 6 oils cannot be helpful. Gamma linolenic acid, or GLA, has been used for generations as an anti-inflammatory. It has also been used in the treatment of hormonal issues, such as PMS and the menopause. These links ensure that its supplementation is very popular, with millions of women taking high quality UK-made evening primrose oil or borage oil on a daily basis.