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Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)



What are EFA’s?  Despite a general widespread belief that the consumption of all fats is bad for your health, the fact is dietary fat is essential to optimum health and fitness.  The essential fatty acids (EFA’s) consist of two groups of fats: 1) Omega-3 EFA’s, and 2) Omega-6 EFA’s.  EFA’s are necessary building blocks for all cell membranes in the human body.  Both of these types of fats are essential for life.  The increased processing of foods has significantly lowered the amount of EFA’s in our diet.  Many people now consume insufficient amounts of EFA’s which may lead to health problems. 


Who might benefit from EFA supplements?  Increasing EFA intake – either through dietary sources or through supplementation – even in the absence of a deficiency can improve health, reduce the risk of heart disease, and lead to decreases in body fat.  Therefore everyone can benefit from EFA supplements. 


What does research say about EFA supplementation?  Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have positive effects on blood pressure, the immune system, and blood cholesterol levels.  Omega-3 fatty acids are known to enhance lipolysis (body fat breakdown) and decrease lipogenesis (body fat formation) (Couet et al., 1997).  This means EFA’s can reduce the amount of body fat production and increase fat metabolism when EFA consumption is increased.  Another positive effect associated with omega-3 supplementation is an increased human growth hormone (somatotropin) response following supplementation (Bucci, 1993) and therefore may enhance the recovery process.   

Many fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids, including: mackerel, herring, and sardines.  Fish contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.  These are both important for brain function, but, in particular DHA has a particularly positive effect on brain function.  Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: flaxseed oil, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables).  Plant sources contain the omega-3fatty acid ALA which can be converted to EPA by enzymes in the human body.   

Omega-3 supplements include: cod-liver oil, concentrated fish oils, and flaxseed oil. 

Omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to be highly beneficial, to health, as well.  Omega-6 fatty acids are converted to gamma linoleic acid (GLA) and then to prostagladins, by enzymes in the human body.   Prostagladins help to regulate inflammation, have positive effects on blood pressure and heart function, and are known to regulate hormone levels.  Dietary sources of omega-6 fatty acids include: nuts, seeds, most vegetable oils but starflower oil is a particular good source.  

Omega-6 supplements include: starflower oil (sometimes called borage oil) and evening primrose oil.


How should I take EFA’s?  A general recommendation for supplementation would be 2,000-3,000mg of Omega-3 and 500-1,000mg of omega-6.



Bucci, L. (1993) Nutrients as ergogenic aids for sport and exercise. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 6; 20. 

Couet, C., Delarue, J., Ritz, P., Antoine, J-M. and Lamisse, F. (1997) Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. Interantional Journal of Obesity. 21, 637-643.

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Last modified: 01/05/06