Alright Fatty Acids… What!?
How & why are they important for your thriving health + hormones? We will get to that in a moment. Firstly I want you to know that I am not a doctor and will NOT ever diagnose you, that’s your GP’s remit… They do a freakn’ amazing job in keeping the human race alive, and it’s quite a serious vocation of choice that takes a lifetime commitment. My passion and responsibility is to spread what I have learned from my own experience, education, training, and most of all, my job is to guide you to find what foods and lifestyle choices are suited bio-individually to be a healthier version of yourself, no matter your starting point!
So what does abundant health have any correlation with fatty acids? Determining the right balance for your bio-individual needs starts with understanding where your body is at with it’s basic nutrient requirements. As I was embarking on my studies at the Nutritional Therapy Association in 2015, to my disbelief, I discovered I was severely deficient in my fatty acids.
After all… I “thought” I was pretty healthy. I knew that it was good to include good fats, and had a grasp on what these actually looked like. I enjoyed a wide variety of these fats from foods, and occasionally I would supplement with fish oil, only to result a ghastly after taste… This indicates that your digestion may require some support.
I also didn’t realise how critical these good fats (fatty acid balance) is pivotal for development and maintaining healthy hormones, and how it can set the stage for autoimmune disorders, if out of synch. Yikes! That wasn’t really a message embedded in society. There was emphasis to buy foods that was fortified with omega 6, thus must be good for you right? Not to mention the fad whereby fat was demonised the bad guy! This could not be more further from the truth…
As I was working on my own nutritional needs from a foundational level, and with this new knowledge that I need to increase and balance my fats, the biggest game changer for me personally, was that my energy levels had increased significantly. The roller-coaster high and low energy dips that would sometimes occur mid-morning and late-afternoon vanished to this new found and constant stream of energy. For years I struggled with this, and genuinely thought, “this is just how I am”. The brain-fog also had lifted, and my circadian rhythm showed improvements. Honouring the night time for rest, and day time to live energetically! One random sign, is by walking up stairs with a spring in your step, versus that dragging your heals feeling. The light-bulb truly went off when our Group Leader, Dr. Dana Brown was teaching us how to functionally test the body’s response for fatty acid deficiency, therefore next time you find yourself walking upstairs dragging your heels, do a quick check-in with your fat intake!
What are Fatty Acids?
Without getting into too much science, in layman’s speak…
Fatty acids are derived from the consumption of good fats and oils (known as lipids) from your diet. Lipids are specifically made up of triglycerides comprising of three fatty acids, and one glycerol molecule. Fatty acids are organic molecules made up of a chain of carbon atoms. These chains range anywhere from one to 24 carbon atoms, and they are named according to the length of the carbon chain and the degree of saturation.
Through appropriate digestion, your body breaks down the lipids from your fats and oil consumption to the molecular level for utilisation from your cells. To create those healthy cell membrane walls full of lustre, the cell walls require good fats + in their correct ratios.
There are two polyunsaturated fats absolutely essential to the body:
Linoleic Acid (LA) Omega 6
Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) Omega 3
There are also four other fats, which are conditionally essential:
1. Gamma-linolenic Acid (GLA)
2. Arachidonic Acid (AA)
3. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
4. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Essential means you have to ingest these important fats from your diet, and are required for proper body function. The body knows how to manufacture the conditionally essential fats, provided it has the raw materials from your foods.
Key Motivators… The Why?
• Essential Fatty Acids and other good fats are of crucial importance to one’s endocrine system, think your reproduction powers!
• The body cannot make healthy hormones without good fats. Endocrine factories are inside the cells and phospholipids control what goes in and out of the cell.
• The human body is made up of an estimate of 32 trillion cells! That’s a whole lot of cell membranes to feed – they require healthy fats for efficient hormone communication.
• The appropriate mix of fatty acids is critical for the management of inflammation.
• Inflammation is now considered to be a major factor contributing to heart disease. Good fats are the best source of energy for the heart.
• Let’s not forget about the brain! Your brain is the fattiest organ in your body, at least 60% fat! Fats are needed to create neurotransmitters.
Are you still with me?
The Omega’s (Polyunsaturated Fats)
1. Omega 3’s: Fish oil, flax seed oil, hemp, chia.
2. Omega-6s: Blackcurrant seed, evening primrose, sunflower oil, sesame oil.
3. Omega-9s: Extra virgin olive oil, hazelnut, walnut.
The polyunsaturated fats are the most unstable fats and go rancid easily. Heat should never be applied with these oils, avoid cooking with these oils by all means. They are mostly found in liquid form, keep refrigerated, particularly in hotter climates.
The other 2 classification of fats are:
1) Saturated fats from healthy sources are that scrumptious delight called butter, also other raw dairy fats, coconut oil, animal fats from pastured animals.
They are highly stable, solid at room temperature and are best for cooking, as they do not go rancid easily.
2) Monounsaturated fats are your olives, olive oil, avocados, nuts, bone marrow. They are relatively stable, do not go rancid easily, surpass low-heat cooking and liquid at room temperature.
More benefits… Apart from making your food extremely tasty?
• Fats (fatty acids) provide energy for the body.
• Are required for a healthy liver, digestive function and for the adequate use of proteins.
• Fatty acids are an essential part of the cell membranes that make up the tissues of the heart and the coronary arteries.
• Serve as a protective lining for the organs of the body.
• Play a role in slowing the absorption of food for proper energy regulation.
• It’s the fat that makes your meal extremely satiating, that full feeling, and prevents those future cravings.
• Fat’s manage the inflammatory process.
Fats to AVOID like the Plague:
• Hydrogenated or partially hydrated fats
• Highly processed vegetable oils
• Fried foods
Trans fats are a by-product of the hydrogenation process, which are highly toxic and cause havoc within a healthy body. Think of all those foods at the supermarket neatly in their packages. The longer the shelf life, the shorter one’s health!
What happens if there is an imbalance?
Omega 3’s and 6’s need to be in balance of a 1:1 ratio. The modern diet of today, leads consuming higher fatty acids in omega 6, overshadowing your omega 3’s resulting to a ratio of 1:19/20. This imbalance disrupts the functions of the body.
When this imbalance occurs, then your body is unable to provide the precursor ingredients necessary for the production of the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins PG-1 and PG- 3. The body is unable to inflame, and doesn’t have the sufficient anti-inflammatory factors needed to complete the healing cycle.
Unfortunately fatty acid deficiency is epidemic world-wide, which leads to musculoskeletal issues, endocrine issues, cardiovascular issues, immune issues, allergies, asthma, anxiety, skin problems and other mood conditions.
Other indicators of fatty acid deficiency:
• Chronic discomfort and swelling
• Agonising joints
• Frequent consumption of fried foods
• Poor brain function (bi-polar, bad memory, anxiety, depression, mood change)
• Oral pH below 7.2– 7.4
• Restricted intake of fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds, uncooked cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, or avocados
• Daily usage of processed foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats
• Dry or unhealthy skin
• Hormonal imbalances
Key tips towards Fatty Acid Balance
1) Know your Fats! The good guys and the bad guys to stay the heck away from.
2) Keep in check the importance of the omega 3 / omega 6 1:1 ratio.
3) Remove external stressors. Yes, the one’s that are of no surprise, and I will repeat for completeness. Chemicals, sugar, smoke, ingredients you cannot pronounce.
4) Hydrate. Healthy cell-to-cell communication (hormones) requires good quality water. Hydration facilitates the transport of fatty acids, enables cellular hydration, improves the oxygen delivery to cells. Removes wastes and flushes out toxins. What’s not to love here?
5) Fat soluble vitamins require fat. Vitamin A, D, E and K are your basic raw materials that are required for many functions in your body.
6) Supplementation will also aid the healing time, but the long-term preference is to get the nutrients from your food. Supplements are useful when starting out a customised nutrition plan designed for your bio-individual needs. Also take into account the manufacturing process of your foods dependent on your location, and the scarcity nutrients in our modern day soil. Know your source, better yet, start to grow your own.
7) Omit calorie counting… Healthy cells need healthy fats to function properly! I’m extremely passionate about this, being a victim of the whole fat-free saga myself. It also can set the stage for self-sabotage by eventually over eating due to not enough fuel in your body, and takes away the enjoyment of your foods. Nature has provided us with these wonderful gifts of nature, thereby adding a counting element to your routine, and then failing does not equate to enjoyment! Strive for intention, not perfection. That does not exist.
8) Mix-up your daily routine. It can be easy to fall into what I would call a “food-rut”, eating the same foods everyday. Your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to fully thrive. Embrace seasonal eating!
What key tip will you start with today?
Source: Journal of American College of Nutrition, Vol 20, No. 1, 5-19 (2001), “Types of Dietary Fat and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Critical Review” by Frank B. Hu, MD, Phd, JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPh, and Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPh, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health. Autism Res Rev Int, 2002;16(3):7 “Study Tests Nutrients Role in Reducing Ear Infections. Nutritional Therapy Association.