Essential Fatty Acids

“Killer” fats are what we hear so much about recently, with large numbers of people wrongly turning to low fat diets. Little do they know, they are also decreasing their intake of the healing fats that are required for life. Improper low fat diets, useful for atherosclerosis, can kill you over the long term. Children are especially vulnerable to damage from low fat diets. To balance the one sided view on fats, we must talk about essential fatty acids (EFAs): an adequate supply of healing fats is even more important to health than the avoidance of supposed killer fats.

Like vitamins, EFAs are essential to health. Older literature refers to them collectively as vitamin F. Vitamins and EFAs are essential for the following reasons:

  • We must have them to live and to be healthy
  • Our bodies cannot make them from other substances
  • We must obtain an adequate supply from external sources, from food or from supplements
  • Deficiency results in gradual deterioration of cells and tissues, and ultimately, in death
  • Increasing the intake to adequate levels reverses the signs brought about by deficiency.

This definition of essentiality reflects the fact that essential nutrients perform key functions in our cells and tissues that the body cannot live without. EFAs play their essential roles by:

  • Helping to form the membrane barrier that surrounds our cells and intracellular factories (organelles)
  • Determining fluidity and chemical reactivity of membranes
  • Increasing oxidation rate, metabolic rate, and energy levels
  • Serving as starting material for hormone like regulating molecules (prostaglandins) that govern cell activities on a moment to moment basis

Special Properties Of EFAs

While EFAs are like vitamins in their essentiality, they differ in other respects. Vitamins are required in very small amounts (a few mg per day) whereas EFAs are macronutrients, necessary in grams per day. EFAs are perishable, deteriorating rapidly when exposed to light, air, heat and metals. Unlike vitamins, EFAs cannot be dried, powdered and stored for several years. EFA sensitivity makes careful processing and freshness extremely important.

Omega6 And Omega3 EFAs

Many standard texts on nutrition suggest three EFAs: linoleic, linolenic, and arachidonic acids. This outdated information is wrong. Two fatty acids are essential to human health. (Fish require only one fatty acid and plants require neither as they make their own.) The first is the omega6 EFA, which is called linoleic acid (LA). LA is abundant in polyunsaturated safflower, sunflower and corn oils. The second, known as the omega3 EFA, is called alpha linolenic acid (LNA) and is sometimes referred to as super unsaturated; it is found abundantly in flax and hemp seeds.

LA and its derivatives belong to the omega6 family of polyunsaturates. In addition to linoleic acid (LA), this family includes the down line metabolites gamma linoleic acid (GLA), dihomogamma linolenic acid (DGLA), and arachidonic acid (AA).

If LA is provided by foods, our cells make GLA, DGLA, and AA. Omega6 conversion can be inhibited by bad fats (margarines, shortenings, trans fatty acids, hard fats, sugar and cholesterol), lack of minerals (magnesium, selenium, zinc), vitamin deficiencies (B3, B6, C, E), viruses, obesity, diabetes, aging, and rare genetic mutations. In such situations, oil containing omega6 derivatives can help. GLA is present in evening primrose, borage, and black currant seed. DGLA is found in mother’s milk and AA in meats, eggs and dairy products.

LNA and its derivatives belong to an omega3 family of superunsaturates. Besides LNA, this family includes the down line metabolites eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). If LNA is provided by foods, our cells make DHA and EPA. When the conversion of EFAs to their derivatives is inhibited by the factors listed above, DHA from black currant seed oil, or EPA and DHA from fish oils and northern ocean algae can be given.

A study on elderly Japanese patients demonstrated that blood levels of the omega3 fatty acids EPA and DHA increase after prolonged consumption of ALA from a plant based oil. The change is slow and requires about 10 months of supplementation. However, the result of the study suggests that supplementation with ALA from flax oil may to some degree have the same beneficial role as supplementation with fish oil. This news may be particularly interesting to people following a vegetarian diet or for those who do not eat fish products.

Properties Of EFAs

The value of LA and LNA to health results from their chemical properties. EFAs react with oxygen: EFA rich oils such as flax, hemp and safflower were traditionally used in paints because they oxidize, dry and harden quickly when exposed to air. When fresh, these oils are valuable human foods. EFAs absorb sunlight, increasing their ability to react with oxygen by about 1000 fold and making them very active chemically.

EFA molecules carry slight negative charges that cause them to repel one another. They spread out in all directions. This property enables EFAs to carry oil soluble toxins from deep within the body to the skin surface for eliminations. EFAs form associations with the sulfhydryl group (cysteine) in proteins, important in reactions that make possible the one way movement of electrons and energy on which life depends. EFAs store electric charges that produce bioelectric currents important for muscle, cell membrane and nerve functions, including the transmission of messages.

EFA Functions

As structural components of membranes, EFAs help form a barrier that keeps foreign molecules, viruses, yeasts, fungi and bacteria outside of cells, and keeps the cells’ proteins, enzymes, genetic material and organelles (small organs) inside. They also help regulate the traffic of substances in and out of our cells via protein channels, pumps and other mechanisms.

They perform similar functions in membranes that surround organelles within our cells. EFAs fulfill many functions:

  • Regulate oxygen use, electron transport, and energy production, our cells’ most important moment to moment processes
  • Help form red blood pigment (hemoglobin) from simpler substances
  • Keep juice producing (exocrine) and hormone producing (endocrine) glands active
  • Help make joint lubricants
  • Are precursors of prostaglandins (PGs), three families of short lived, hormone like substances that regulate blood pressure, platelet stickiness and kidney function. A delicate balance between PGs with opposing functions, in part determined by omega6 and omega3 intake, determines the health of our cardiovascular system.
  • Help transport cholesterol
  • Help generate the electrical currents that make our heart beat in an orderly sequence
  • Are precursors of derivatives such as DHA, which are needed by the most active tissues; brain, retina, adrenal glands and testes
  • Help our immune system fight infections by enhancing peroxide production
  • Help prevent the development of allergies.

EFAs play a role in every life process in our body and life without them is impossible. When consuming an EFA poor diet, expect a diversity of health problems.

EFA Requirements

Of approximately fifty known essential nutrients, LA has the highest daily requirement. The amount needed varies with season, latitude, levels of activity and stress, nutritional state, and individual differences. Just 1 to 2% of calories (1 tsp per day) prevent signs of deficiency in most healthy adults. LA optimums are around 3 to 6 percent of calories (1 tbsp per day), requiring about 30 IU of vitamin E to help prevent rancidity. Obese people and those eating hard fats, sugar, and trans fatty acids require more. Nutrients essential for LA functions include magnesium, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, carotene, B3, B6, C and E.

An adult carries about 10 kilograms of body fat, of which approximately 1 kilogram is LA. Vegetarians’ bodies carry up to 25% of their body fat as LA. People with degenerative disease average only about 8% of their body fat as LA.

Alpha linolenic acid (LNA) optimums range between 1 to 2 tsp per day, averaging 2% of daily calories. Body content in healthy people is around 2% of fat, or half a pound of LNA. LNA requires the same antioxidants, minerals and vitamins necessary for LA functions.

Omega6 To Omega3 Ratio

Omega6 to omega3 ratios in healthy populations range from 1:2.5 (Inuit diets) to 6:1 (other traditional diets). Since 1850, omega3 consumption has decreased to one sixth its traditional level, resulting in an omega6 to omega3 ratio of 20:1 (contemporary polyunsaturated oil diets), which is associated with degenerative conditions. Flax, our richest source of omega3, quickly replenishes a long standing omega3 deficiency. 1 to 2 tbsp per day of good quality flax oil for a few months should suffice. Cold water fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring) are a good source of the metabolites EPA and DHA.

Hemp seed oil has a remarkable fatty acid profile, being high in the desirable omega3s and also delivering some GLA, which is absent from the fats we normally eat. Hemp oil contains 57% linoleic and 19% linolenic acids, in the 3:1 ratio that matches our nutritional needs. Once difficult to find, many health food stores now routinely make hemp seed oil available as the demand for it has increased.

Long term exclusion of omega6 oils and excessive use of flax oil can result in a reverse imbalance of the one commonly seen, i.e. too much omega3. They should remain in balance. If a person has cancer, inflammatory conditions, or needs to lose weight, omega3 should be favored. The desried ratio in heart disease may be 1:1. Otherwise, an omega6 to omega3 ratio of between 2:1 and 3:1 is suitable for a healthy individual.

Mary Enig, PhD is a respected researcher in the field of fats and oils, especially the hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated and trans fats. The latest findings appear to implicate all seed oils in the promotion of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies, adrenal failure and stroke. The list of implicated oils includes canola, soy, corn, safflower, sunflower and all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats and oils. If this turns out to be true, then limiting the intake of the omega6 EFAs becomes increasingly important.

Dark meat fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, and swordfish contain the most concentrated sources of Omega3s, with an average of 1510mg of omega3s per serving. Most other fish, including canned tuna, provide about 450mg per serving, while shrimp, lobster and scallops contain about 320mg per serving. Krill are also becoming available as an excellent source of Omega3 fatty acids.

Processing EFAs

In nature’s package, EFA rich oils keep for years without spoiling. Once out of that package, light, air and heat attack EFAs. Like perishable produce, EFA rich oils should be made with care and obtained fresh. Frying and deep frying destroy EFAs by the combined effects of light, oxygen and heat, producing toxic substances that can lead to atherosclerosis and cancer.

EFA rich oils should be made and packaged in the absence of light, oxygen and heat. Frozen solid, oils remain unspoiled for a long time because freezing does not damage them. Manufacturers should ship them directly to retailers or consumers without stops along the way. You are probably better off using flax seeds and grinding them in a small coffee grinder just before use. They can be sprinkled on many different foods, will tend to be less rancid and also contain lignins. However, the most effective way of getting EPA and DHA into your body is through the use of a fish oil like cod liver oil.


Essential Fatty Acids can help with the following


Current Smoker

There is some evidence that a higher intake of PUFAs increase the risk of cancers generally. Here is a site that has a good summary of this perspective.

However, other studies have failed to demonstrate this. [Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev October 2002 11; 987]

There is evidence that the consumption of Omega-3 type fatty acids reduces the risk of some cancers. [Int. J. Cancer: 105, 113.116 (2003)]


Senile Dementia

More than 5 million Americans have some form of Alzheimer’s disease, and just as many suffer from vascular dementia, so preventing and slowing the progression of neurodegenerative disorders is a public health imperative.

Studies found that a diet high in fish and fish products is associated with better cognitive performance. Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with less decline in the speed-related cognitive domains.

It often takes decades for dementia to develop and brain volume to shrink. These studies of the benefits of omega-3 fats on brain function offer an opportunity for early intervention to maintain your brain function and slow progression to dementia. [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(5), pp.1259-1260, 1470-1478, 1479-1485. November 2007]


Allergies Indoor

Replenishing a deficiency of Omega-3 type fatty acids in the diet has resulted in fewer allergic and inflammatory reactions.


Multiple Sclerosis / Risk

The Swank diet includes a blend of 40-50gm per day of essential fatty acids as well as at least 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil per day. Please also see the article about the approach that Fred Klenner, MD used with MS.


Myasthenia Gravis

Essential fatty acids have been shown to suppress autoimmune attacks in general and to help protect myelin sheaths. A blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may provide supportive benefit in the treatment of myasthenia gravis


Crohn's Disease

A study by Japanese researcher Kuroki found that, compared with control subjects, Crohn’s patients had lower concentrations of Omega-3 essential fats and higher concentrations of the monounsaturated fatty acids Omega-7 and Omega-9. These results indicate EFA deficiency. Among the fatty acids that correlated with the Crohn’s disease activity index, EPA and total Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids showed the most significant negative correlations. The less of these fatty acids present, the worse the disease. [Digestive Diseases and Sciences; 1997; 42(6): pp.1137-1141, Fatty Acid Patterns in Patients with Chronic Intestinal Disease, Metabolism 1996; 45(1): pp.12-23]

Fish oil, the only current means of getting EPA without equal amounts of DHA, may delay relapses in Crohn’s disease due to its anti-inflammatory effect. Dr Belluzzi, MD tried a new way of delivering the fish oil to the intestine by putting it in a capsule that would not dissolve in the stomach for at least 30 minutes. As a result, the overall dose of fish oil could be reduced by a third and the unpleasant taste of the oil was avoided. 78 Crohn’s patients took part in a trial for one year; 39 were given the fish oil and the other 39 were given a placebo in an identical capsule.

At the end of the year the doctors checked which patients were still in remission and which had experienced a flare-up of symptoms. 59% of the patients who took the fish oil were still in remission, compared with only 26% of those who were given the placebo.

About 10% of the patients who were given the fish oil dropped out of the trial because of increased diarrhea, but Dr Belluzzi believes that the coated fish oil capsules could offer an effective way to prolong remission for Crohn’s patients. The patients involved in the trial had some evidence of mild inflammation before starting the trial and that the fish oil may have helped by treating this rather than by preventing inflammation from actually starting. He estimates that about 30-40% of Crohn’s patients are likely to have a mild level of inflammation similar to those people involved in the trial.


Lupus, SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythromatosis) / Risk

Flax seed oil and/or fish oil have been shown to reduce the severity of the disease in animal studies. One tablespoon flax seed oil bid is recommended.


Autoimmune Tendency

Supplementation with omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) along with the essential omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from borage oil, evening primrose oil, or black currant seed oil, can alleviate many symptoms of autoimmune disease through their anti-inflammatory activity.


Sjogren's Syndrome

Those with Sjogren’s syndrome may have a metabolic block that interferes with the body’s ability to make GLA from the omega-6 containing oils. [Med Hypotheses 1980;6: pp.225–32, Med Hypotheses 1984;14: pp.233–47] Bypassing this metabolic step by taking GLA orally may help, especially if there are other indicators of a deficiency.


Hypercoagulation (Thickened Blood)

See the link between Hypercoagulation and EPA.



An essential fatty acid Omega-6/Omega-3 imbalance or deficiency can contribute to inflammation, which is part of the problem in vasculitis.


Increased Risk of Stroke

High doses of Omega-3 oils reduce platelet aggregation and thus reduce the abnormal clotting tendency which is seen in 75% of strokes.



Omega 3 fatty acids may reduce the incidence of arrhythmias during a heart attack. [Japanese Circulation Journal Dec, 1994;58: pp.903-12] One investigation found that people taking fish oil capsules had a 48% reduction in the number of extra heartbeats, but this remains speculative as a separate study did not find this expected link.


Environment / Toxicity  




Histadelia (Histamine High)

Omega 3 essential fatty acids can be beneficial.


Periodontal Disease - Gingivitis

Borage oil improved gingival inflammation and probing depth in a controlled study of 30 adults with periodontal disease. The dosage used was 3000mg per day for a period of 3 months.. Fish oil alone (3,000mg per day) or a combination of borage oil (1,500mg per day) and fish oil (1,500mg per day) had no effect. [Prost Leuk Ess Fatty Acids 2003;68(3): pp.213-8]



Lyme Disease

The use of omega 3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation and joint stiffness.


Helicobacter Pylori Infection

Essential fatty acids have the ability to inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori and suppress acid production.


Chronic Inflammation

A tendency towards chronic repeated inflammations may be resolved through prostaglandin balancing. The levels of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory prostaglandins are primarily determined by the intake of essential fatty acids. A dietary deficiency of Omega-3 type fatty acids has been associated with a tendency toward chronic inflammation, which regular consumption of these oils can reduce.

Omega-3 fatty acids such as flax oil or fish oil and the digestive aid bromelain make a useful anti-inflammatory combination. Their use can be considered together in trying to resolve any chronic inflammatory condition. While oils should be taken with food because they may cause irritation or indigestion by themselves, bromelain is best taken separately from food. If a person can not tolerate these oils on an empty stomach, then these two products should be rotated; oils with a meal, bromelain between meals. Typical doses are 1T flax oil per day or 3,000-5,000mg fish oil per day along with 125-500mg tid bromelain (3,000 mcu or 2,000 GDU/gm potency).

Lab Values  

Elevated Triglycerides

In over 4,000 subjects, a high consumption of dietary linolenic acid was associated with low plasma triglycerides. [Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78: pp.1098-1102]



Methylation, Excess

Omega 3 type fatty acids, such as from fish oil, flax seed oil or the supplements EPA and DHA.


Headaches, Migraine/Tension

Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines. Two small double blind studies (using fish oil) demonstrated a high percentage of effectiveness. Supplementation should continue for longer than 3 weeks, which is the time it takes to change cell membrane composition with the new fatty acids.

However, another study using 6gm per day over 4 months for migraines showed no benefit over placebo. [Cephalalgia 2001;21(8): pp.818-822]


Rheumatoid Arthritis

Both Omega 6 and Omega 3 EFAs and their metabolites Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) and EPA have shown effectiveness in Rheumatoid Arthritis. One study showed that use for 12 months produced meaningful improvement in 76% of subjects. The oil from cold water fish falls into the Omega 3 category, and has shown positive results in reducing inflammation. Some researchers believe that if you regularly eat small amounts of cold-water fish (which contain Omega 3 fatty acids) over many years, you may be able to avoid rheumatoid arthritis.

In a review that was completed by the medical research firm, Metaworks, Inc. in Medford Mass, lead researcher Dr. Marya Zilberberg reported that GLA is not only safe, but it is also an effective natural therapy. In her review of close to 40 clinical papers on GLA, she noted that GLA consistently reduces inflammation and joint stiffness without any of the serious side effects associated with pharmaceutical drugs. Zilberberg found that GLA is particularly useful for reducing morning stiffness. “We saw about a 60-65% reduction in morning stiffness for these patients,” said Zilberberg. “In other words if you have two hours of morning stiffness, that goes down to about a half hour. It is an extremely striking difference.”

Also see the link between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Vegetarian Diet.

Nervous System  

Tardive Dyskinesia

In a pilot study of (n-3) fatty acid supplementation, the authors observed significant improvement in both schizophrenic symptoms and tardive dyskinesia over a 6 week period. [Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1996 Aug;55(1-2): pp.71-5]




Organ Health  

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

A high intake of omega-3 fatty acids may protect cigarette smokers against chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may interfere with the inflammatory mediators triggered by cigarette smoking. Even small increments of omega-3 fatty acids may have a cumulative beneficial effect. [Dietary N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Smoking-Related Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, The New England Journal of Medicine, July 28, 1994;331(4): pp.228-233].


Enlarged Prostate

The administration of an essential fatty acid (EFA) complex containing linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic acids has resulted in significant improvement for many patients. All 19 subjects in an uncontrolled study showed diminution of residual urine, with 12 of the 19 having no residual urine by the end of several weeks of treatment. These effects appear to be due to the correction of an underlying EFA deficiency, since these patients prostatic and seminal lipid levels and ratios are often abnormal. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which is derived from evening primrose oil and borage oil, appears to be a powerful 5 alpha-reductase inhibitor.


Kidney Failure

There have been a variety of trials of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in patients with a variety of renal disorders. These trials suggest that such therapy may be of use in the treatment of IgA nephropathy and chronic renal failure. Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acid manipulation results in an anti-inflammatory. [Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Renal Disease, Proceedings of the Society For Experimental Biology and Medicine, 1996;213: pp.13-23.]

Fish oil supplementation is promising and does not produce the risks associated with corticosteroid and immunosuppressive drug use.


Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

French researchers examined the fat composition of almost 250 patients with invasive, nonmetastatic breast carcinoma and compared the content to 88 patients with benign breast disease. Women who had the most omega-3 and least omega-6 had a 70% reduction in breast cancer. In other words, the lower the omega 6:3 ratio the lower the risk of breast cancer. [Anticancer Research 2002 March/April;22(2A): pp.537-43]

Also, lignans are particularly abundant in raw ground flax seed and are also found in whole grains and legumes. Diets that are rich in these foods seem to be a factor in preventing the development of breast cancer in women.


Cancer / Risk - General Measures

Please see the link between Cancer / Risk – General Measures and Fish Consumption.


Increased Risk of Coronary Disease / Heart Attack

Many studies have shown that higher omega-3 fatty acid intake, through fish consumption or through supplementation, can cut the rate of sudden cardiac death by nearly one-half, in both apparently healthy patients and those who have suffered a previous heart attack.

To better understand this protective effect, Danish researchers examined the dietary patterns and individual fatty acid status of nearly 300 patients with ischemic heart disease, comparing them with specific parameters of cardiac function. They found that the patients who ate more fish had higher levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in their blood cell membranes and in their fat cells. A higher level of two specific fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – especially within the cell membrane – was associated with higher heart rate variability in the patients. An increased heart rate variability indicates healthier pulse regulation, and appears to significantly reduce the risk of arrhythmia and cardiac death.

Anti-inflammatory agents such as the omega-3 oils are especially useful when inflammation is present. [Circulation 2001;104(19): pp.2269-2272]

Too little Omega-3 and too much Omega-6 oil may be a contributing factor in the development of heart disease. It is a fact that MI deaths have increased in direct proportion to the increase in polyunsaturated fats (the omega 6 type, linoleic acid) in our diet.

There is now a home test for Omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 assay can be used as a marker for both heart disease risk and cellular aging. A kit can be ordered and a small sample of blood taken by finger prick. The sample is sent to a lab and the results sent to you. The test is rather expensive, well over $100. Your doctor may also work with you if preferred to do this lab test.


Increased Risk of Alzheimer's / Dementia

Please see the link from Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s and Fish Oil.


Increased Risk of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer patients who added about 3 heaping tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily to their diet had more slowly-dividing tumor cells and a greater rate of tumor cell death than men who did not follow this diet, after about 5 weeks. The investigators found no significant difference in levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA). [Urology July 2001; p.58]

Because prostate cancer is slow growing, generally present for years before detection, the use of flaxseeds would be wise long before the presence of prostate cancer is established.

A new study suggests that it may be better to use fish oil than the ALA found in flax or other oils. This study of about 47,000 men has found the ALA omega-3 fatty acids stimulate the growth of prostate tumors in men. Of the men monitored over 14 years, some 3,000 struggled with prostate cancer and about one in seven were suffering from the advanced stages of the disease. Researchers found men who were suffering from advanced prostate cancer had higher quantities of ALA from non-animal as well as meat and dairy sources.

Scientists also found EPA and DHA could reduce the risk of total and advanced prostate cancer too. [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition July 2004 80(1); pp.204-216]

Omega-3 fatty acids appear protective against advanced prostate cancer, and this effect may be modified by a genetic variant in the COX-2 gene, according to a report in Clinical Cancer Research, March 2009.

“Previous research has shown protection against prostate cancer, but this is one of the first studies to show protection against advanced prostate cancer and interaction with COX-2,” said John S. Witte, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco.

For the current study, researchers performed a case-control analysis of 466 men diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer and 478 healthy men. Diet was assessed by a food frequency questionnaire and researchers genotyped nine COX-2 single nucleotide polymorphisms.

Researchers divided omega-3 fatty acid intake into four groups based on quartiles of intake. Men who consumed the highest amount of long chain omega-3 fatty acids had a 63 percent reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest amount of long chain omega-3 fatty acids.

The researchers then assessed the effect of omega-3 fatty acid among men with the variant rs4647310 in COX-2, a known inflammatory gene. Men with low long chain omega-3 fatty acid intake and this variant had a more than five-fold increased risk of advanced prostate cancer. But men with high intake of omega-3 fatty acids had a substantially reduced risk, even if they carried the COX-2 variant.

“The COX-2 increased risk of disease was essentially reversed by increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake by a half a gram per day,” said Witte. “If you want to think of the overall inverse association in terms of fish, where omega-3 fatty acids are commonly derived, the strongest effect was seen from eating dark fish such as salmon one or more times per week.”


Increased Risk of Basal Cell Skin Cancer

Omega 3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can effectively reduce the risk of skin cancer whereas omega 6 fatty acids such as arachidonic acid (AA) reportedly promote risk. To reduce the risk of skin cancer, increase your intake of Omega 3 oils AND reduce your intake of omega 6 oils to achieve a better ratio of the two. [PNAS June 19, 2001 vol. 98 no. 13 pp.7510-7515]


Increased Risk of Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Omega 3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can effectively reduce the risk of skin cancer whereas omega 6 fatty acids such as arachidonic acid (AA) reportedly promote risk. To reduce the risk of skin cancer, increase your intake of Omega 3 oils AND reduce your intake of omega 6 oils to achieve a better ratio of the two. [PNAS June 19, 2001 vol. 98 no. 13 pp.7510-7515]


Dry skin

Dry skin is often related to a deficiency of essential fatty acids.



In published studies, a mixture EFAs from safflower, sunflower and flax oil provided benefit. This is a condition where delta-6-desaturase is often impaired. It may be wiser to start with oil that contains GLA and, if improvement occurs, switch to a cheaper oil. GLA can be used in doses up to 1gm (of actual GLA) per day in more serious cases. Add vitamin E at the same time any EFAs are used.

Primarily in children, the first step is a limitation of n-6 fats that are converted to inflammatory arachidonic acid lipoxygenase mediators. N-6 fats are common in nearly all polyunsaturated vegetable oil products (with the exclusion of olive and canola oils, which are relatively high in n-9 and n-3 fats respectively). Bakery products are particularly troublesome, as high percentages of the n -6 fats have been converted to trans isomers that further exacerbate the dermatitis.

The second step would be to increase n-3 fats such as EPA and DHA that are common in fish oils. Cod liver oil is profoundly effective here as it has significant quantities of vitamin D and vitamin A that frequently provide synergistic therapeutic effects. Typical daily therapeutic quantities of n-3 fats are 300 mg per 4 kg of body weight. Supplementation with ALA (i.e. flax) is frequently not sufficient to generate significant quantities of EPA and DHA.

Also consider limiting most grains and fruit juices as they are rapidly converted to simple carbohydrates that increase insulin levels which can disturb EFA metabolism. [BMJ (electronic edition) 28 June 2002]

Tumors, Malignant  

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer patients who added about 3 heaping tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily to their diet had more slowly-dividing tumor cells and a greater rate of tumor cell death than men who did not follow this diet, after about 5 weeks. The investigators found no significant difference in levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA). [Urology July 2001; p.58]

A new study suggests that it may be better to use fish oil than the ALA found in flax or other oils. This study of about 47,000 men has found the ALA omega-3 fatty acids stimulate the growth of prostate tumors in men. Of the men monitored over 14 years, some 3,000 struggled with prostate cancer and about one in seven were suffering from the advanced stages of the disease. Researchers found men who were suffering from advanced prostate cancer had higher quantities of ALA from non-animal as well as meat and dairy sources.

Scientists also found EPA and DHA could reduce the risk of total and advanced prostate cancer too. [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition July 2004 80(1); pp.204-216]


Possible Pregnancy-Related Issues

Adequate and balanced essential fatty acid intake is important for the optimal neurologic development of the baby. Fish oil, containing essential fatty acids, is usually free of mercury as a result of proper processing.


Dysmenorrhea, Painful Menstruation

Long-term improvement may be gained by promoting the build up of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins with Omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil. Six grams of fish oil per day (or about 1,000mg of eicosapentanoic acid, 700mg of docosahexaenoic acid) can be taken every day for 2 or 3 cycles and then reduced, or taken for a total of 14 days starting 10 days before your period.


Postmenopausal Status / Issues

Researchers have found postmenopausal women who supplement their diets with flaxseed, as opposed to soy, have a greater chance of reducing their risk of osteoporosis and hormone-sensitive cancers. [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition February, 2004;79(2): pp.318-325]


Menorrhagia (Heavy Periods)

Omega 3 EFAs may reduce bleeding in adolescent girls and improve other menstrual symptoms generally in women.


May do some good
Likely to help
Highly recommended



Common form of arteriosclerosis associated with the formation of atheromas which are deposits of yellow plaques containing cholesterol, lipids, and lipophages within the intima and inner media of arteries. This results in a narrowing of the arteries, which reduces the blood and oxygen flow to the heart and brain as well as to other parts of the body and can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or loss of function or gangrene of other tissues.

Essential Fatty Acid

(EFA): A substance that the human body cannot manufacture and therefore must be supplied in the diet.


The chemical processes of living cells in which energy is produced in order to replace and repair tissues and maintain a healthy body. Responsible for the production of energy, biosynthesis of important substances, and degradation of various compounds.


Chemical substances secreted by a variety of body organs that are carried by the bloodstream and usually influence cells some distance from the source of production. Hormones signal certain enzymes to perform their functions and, in this way, regulate such body functions as blood sugar levels, insulin levels, the menstrual cycle, and growth. These can be prescription, over-the-counter, synthetic or natural agents. Examples include adrenal hormones such as corticosteroids and aldosterone; glucagon, growth hormone, insulin, testosterone, estrogens, progestins, progesterone, DHEA, melatonin, and thyroid hormones such as thyroxine and calcitonin.


Any of a class of physiologically active substances present in many tissues, with effects such as vasodilation, vasoconstriction, stimulation of the smooth muscles of the bronchus or intestine, uterine stimulation; also involved in pain, inflammation, fever, allergic diarrhea, and dysmenorrhea. A potent hormone -- similar in structure to an unsaturated fatty acid -- that acts in extremely low concentrations on local target organs; first isolated from the prostate.


(mg): 1/1,000 of a gram by weight.


(gm): A metric unit of weight, there being approximately 28 grams in one ounce.

Fatty Acids

Chemical chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms that are part of a fat (lipid) and are the major component of triglycerides. Depending on the number and arrangement of these atoms, fatty acids are classified as either saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated. They are nutritional substances found in nature which include cholesterol, prostaglandins, and stearic, palmitic, linoleic, linolenic, eicosapentanoic (EPA), and decohexanoic acids. Important nutritional lipids include lecithin, choline, gamma-linoleic acid, and inositol.


Polyunsaturated fats or oils. Originate from vegetables and are liquid at room temperature. These oils are a good source of the unsaturated fatty acids. They include flaxseed with added vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), sunflower oil, safflower oil, and primrose oil.


Flax Seed or Flax Oil. Flax oil is nutty-flavored oil that is pressed out of flax seeds and is one of the richest sources of Essential Fatty Acids (especially Omega-3 oil), a vital element for good health. The oil making process removes many of the seed's phytoestrogens which offer several health-related benefits including reducing the risk of cancer and alleviating menopausal symptoms. Many choose to use the whole seed because of its fiber and lignan content. Flaxseed oil is light- and temperature-sensitive and must be stored in the refrigerator.


Any product (foodstuff, intermediate, waste product) of metabolism.


Gamma-linolenic Acid is a downline metabolite of linoleic acid, an Omega 6 oil.

Arachidonic Acid

A polyunsaturated 20-carbon essential fatty acid occurring in animal fats and also formed by biosynthesis from dietary linoleic acid (Omega 6). It is a precursor in the biosynthesis of leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and thromboxanes. Excess tends to produce inflammation.


A waxy, fat-like substance manufactured in the liver and found in all tissues, it facilitates the transport and absorption of fatty acids. In foods, only animal products contain cholesterol. An excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.


Plays a vital role in regulating many body functions. They act as catalysts in nerve response, muscle contraction and the metabolism of nutrients in foods. They regulate electrolyte balance and hormonal production, and they strengthen skeletal structures.


An essential mineral. The chief function of magnesium is to activate certain enzymes, especially those related to carbohydrate metabolism. Another role is to maintain the electrical potential across nerve and muscle membranes. It is essential for proper heartbeat and nerve transmission. Magnesium controls many cellular functions. It is involved in protein formation, DNA production and function and in the storage and release of energy in ATP. Magnesium is closely related to calcium and phosphorus in body function. The average adult body contains approximately one ounce of magnesium. It is the fifth mineral in abundance within the body--behind calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. Although about 70 percent of the body's magnesium is contained in the teeth and bones, its most important functions are carried out by the remainder which is present in the cells of the soft tissues and in the fluid surrounding those cells.


An essential element involved primarily in enzymes that are antioxidants. Three selenium- containing enzymes are antioxidant peroxidases and a fourth selenium-containing enzyme is involved in thyroid hormone production. The prostate contains a selenium-containing protein and semen contains relatively large amounts of selenium. Clinical studies show that selenium is important in lowering the risk of several types of cancers. In combination with Vitamin E, selenium aids the production of antibodies and helps maintain a healthy heart. It also aids in the function of the pancreas, provides elasticity to tissues and helps cells defend themselves against damage from oxidation.


An essential trace mineral. The functions of zinc are enzymatic. There are over 70 metalloenzymes known to require zinc for their functions. The main biochemicals in which zinc has been found to be necessary include: enzymes and enzymatic function, protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism. Zinc is a constituent of insulin and male reproductive fluid. Zinc is necessary for the proper metabolism of alcohol, to get rid of the lactic acid that builds up in working muscles and to transfer it to the lungs. Zinc is involved in the health of the immune system, assists vitamin A utilization and is involved in the formation of bone and teeth.


(Vitamin B-3): A coenzyme B-complex vitamin that assists in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Essential for the health of the skin, nerves, tongue and digestive system. It is found in every cell of the body and is necessary for energy production. Niacin is also needed for DNA formation.

Vitamin B6

Influences many body functions including regulating blood glucose levels, manufacturing hemoglobin and aiding the utilization of protein, carbohydrates and fats. It also aids in the function of the nervous system.


Any of a vast group of minute structures composed of a protein coat and a core of DNA and/or RNA that reproduces in the cells of the infected host. Capable of infecting all animals and plants, causing devastating disease in immunocompromised individuals. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics, and are completely dependent upon the cells of the infected host for the ability to reproduce.

Diabetes Mellitus

A disease with increased blood glucose levels due to lack or ineffectiveness of insulin. Diabetes is found in two forms; insulin-dependent diabetes (juvenile-onset) and non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset). Symptoms include increased thirst; increased urination; weight loss in spite of increased appetite; fatigue; nausea; vomiting; frequent infections including bladder, vaginal, and skin; blurred vision; impotence in men; bad breath; cessation of menses; diminished skin fullness. Other symptoms include bleeding gums; ear noise/buzzing; diarrhea; depression; confusion.


Environmental Protection Agency. Also: Eicosapentanoic Acid. A metabolite of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.


Docosahexanoic Acid. A metabolite of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.


A nonessential amino acid but may be essential for individuals with certain diseases or nutritional concerns. Cysteine is a sulfur-bearing amino acid with antioxidant properties. It is important for keratin synthesis, a protein found in skin, hair and nails and is a component of coenzyme A and glutathione.


Compounds composed of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen present in the body and in foods that form complex combinations of amino acids. Protein is essential for life and is used for growth and repair. Foods that supply the body with protein include animal products, grains, legumes, and vegetables. Proteins from animal sources contain the essential amino acids. Proteins are changed to amino acids in the body.


Microscopic germs. Some bacteria are "harmful" and can cause disease, while other "friendly" bacteria protect the body from harmful invading organisms.


Specific protein catalysts produced by the cells that are crucial in chemical reactions and in building up or synthesizing most compounds in the body. Each enzyme performs a specific function without itself being consumed. For example, the digestive enzyme amylase acts on carbohydrates in foods to break them down.


The oxygen-carrying protein of the blood found in red blood cells.


Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels.


A 10-layered, frail nervous tissue membrane of the eye, parallel with the optic nerve. It receives images of outer objects and carries sight signals through the optic nerve to the brain.

Immune System

A complex that protects the body from disease organisms and other foreign bodies. The system includes the humoral immune response and the cell-mediated response. The immune system also protects the body from invasion by making local barriers and inflammation.


Free radicals that are by-products formed in our bodies when molecules of fat react with oxygen.


Hypersensitivity caused by exposure to a particular antigen (allergen), resulting in an increased reactivity to that antigen on subsequent exposure, sometimes with harmful immunologic consequences.


(tsp) Equivalent to 5cc (5ml).


(Tbsp) Equivalent to 15cc (15ml).


International Units. One IU is 1/40th (0.025) of a microgram (mcg).

Vitamin E

An essential fat-soluble vitamin. As an antioxidant, helps protect cell membranes, lipoproteins, fats and vitamin A from destructive oxidation. It helps protect red blood cells and is important for the proper function of nerves and muscles. For Vitamin E only, 1mg translates to 1 IU.


Converted into vitamin A in the body from a yellow pigment that has several forms (i.e., alpha-, beta-, and gamma-carotene).


1000 grams, 2.2lbs.


454 grams, or about half a kilogram.


A chemical compound that slows or prevents oxygen from reacting with other compounds. Some antioxidants have been shown to have cancer-protecting potential because they neutralize free radicals. Examples include vitamins C and E, alpha lipoic acid, beta carotene, the minerals selenium, zinc, and germanium, superoxide dismutase (SOD), coenzyme Q10, catalase, and some amino acids, like cystiene. Other nutrient sources include grape seed extract, curcumin, gingko, green tea, olive leaf, policosanol and pycnogenol.

Hemp Seed Oil

A rich source of essential fatty acids necessary for everyday health and longevity, maintaining cell structure and producing energy. The oil from the hemp seed has a pleasant, nutty flavor and is considered nature's best nutritionally-balanced oil. It is ideal for maintaining a healthy essential fatty acid balance once any omega-3 deficiency has been corrected. Unfortunately the US government made all hemp food products illegal in 2002.


Refers to the various types of malignant neoplasms that contain cells growing out of control and invading adjacent tissues, which may metastasize to distant tissues.


A sudden loss of brain function caused by a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel that supplies the brain, characterized by loss of muscular control, complete or partial loss of sensation or consciousness, dizziness, slurred speech, or other symptoms that vary with the extent and severity of the damage to the brain. The most common manifestation is some degree of paralysis, but small strokes may occur without symptoms. Usually caused by arteriosclerosis, it often results in brain damage.

Hydrogenated Fat

Usually containing trans-fatty acids (or simply "trans" fats), hydrogenated fats show up mostly in margarine, shortening and many prepared and processed foods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, potato chips and other deep-fried foods. The best way to spot hydrogenated fats is to read the ingredient lists on foods and identify those listing hydrogenated or "partially" hydrogenated fats.

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