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How important are essential fatty acids (EFA's) when it comes to our health?
Fats get a bad press when we talk about diet, but they are, of course, vital for health. As one of the key building blocks for our bodies, they form part of our cells, form the basis of many biochemical reactions that support our physiology, and can be used to create energy. Of course, some fats are more helpful that others, and indeed some are essential to have in our diet, since our bodies cannot synthesise them – the ‘omega-3’ and ‘omega-6’ families of fats.
In the history of our human evolution we’ve seen rapid changes to our diets in the past 100-150 years
This is especially true when it comes to our intake of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants from vegetarian sources. Ready made meals and processed food means we are eating more vegetable oils, meat, sugar and starch, and less complex carbohydrates, fibre and fresh vegetables. These unhealthy trends have been exacerbated by a 50 % decrease in physical activity.
In brief, our diet during the last 100-150 years has turned from balanced and anti-inflammatory to unbalanced and pro-inflammatory.
When our bodies are in a state of ill health they are often in what we call a pro-inflammatory state.
This is where it helps to know more about the Omega 6 to Omega 3 fat ratio that your body needs to maintain good health. The ideal ratio is 3:1 when in fact it is close to 14:1 in the average European diet and 20:1 in American diets! A high ratio (e.g. 14:1) can lead to inflammation and inflammation is a component of many diseases.
Key signs and symptoms of EFA deficiency include:
• Dry, scaly, itchy skin which is prone to dermatitis and dandruff
• Poor memory, learning, mood behaviour, and associated conditions
• Vision problems
• Chronic inflammation
• Cardiovascular complications
• Low immunity, increase susceptibility to infections, and poor wound healing
Vegetarians & Vegans – possible deficiencies in Omega 3
Vegetarian or vegan diets tend to contain only marginal levels of EPA and DHA. The main vegan dietary sources include microalgae such as spirulina and seaweed. Seaweed (e.g. wakame or dulse) contains a range of omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA. However, the lipid concentration of dried seaweed, for instance is only about 1-5%. Generally speaking, these vegan sources provide such low levels of Omega-3 that they cannot really be relied upon to provide the levels that are needed in the absence of animal intake. This means that the plasma level of EPA and DHA tends to be a lot lower in vegetarians and vegans than in meat eaters.
Another factor to consider is the conversion process that takes place in the fatty acid pathways. When you eat the likes of linseed/flaxeeds, hemp, chia seeds or walnuts, all rich in Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) these foods are converted in the body using a number of enzymes to obtain EPA and DHA (directly obtained from eating fish, algae, krill). However, many studies show that the approx. conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA may be as little as 8% and 4% respectively.
This is where supplementation from a good quality source such as “Zinzino BalanceOil Vegan” may be beneficial. What I really like about this oil is its excellent quality. It contains marine algae oil combined with polyphenols from extra virgin pre-harvest olive oil along with vegan Vitamin D. This combination ensures maximum absorption. You might be taking a vegan oil but is it really absorbing well into your body cells?
How to test? (don't guess, just test)
You can find out your Omega 6 and Omega 3 levels by doing a very simple pin prick blood test at home, and cost is from €149 which includes the balance oils and 2 test kits. You retest after 4 months of taking the oils to see how your levels have improved. The test is done by Vitas Laboratory in Oslo established in 1994. Very reputable lab with WHO, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge as their key clients. This is a dry blood spot test - the future in bio analysis!
Click here to watch a short video on the test and then you can go ahead and order it directly by clicking "Get Tested".