The Role of Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Disease

Since the discovery in 1963 that unsaturated fatty acids are converted to prostaglandins, essential fatty acids (EFAs) have now long been recognized as a factor in the treatment of many health related conditions. Prostaglandins are eicosanoids, which are short-lived, potent, locally acting cellular mediators that produce a broad range of biological affects on a multitude of tissues.

Prostaglandins (PGs) exist in virtually every mammalian tissue, acting as local hormones; they have important physiologic activities. A related series of compounds exist as well, the thromboxanes. Three different fatty acids (FAs) give rise to three groups of eicosanoids characterized by the number of double bonds in the side chains, e.g., PG1, PG2, and PG3. Different groups attach a ring structure in the compound that give rise to series of prostaglandins and thromboxanes, labelled A, B, etc. The leukotrienes and lipoxins are a third group of eicosanoid derivatives.

What is an Essential Fatty Acid?

Essential fatty acids are given that designation not because of the role they have in health but because the human body cannot make them. All fatty acids can be used by the body, but only two are considered essential and both are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA): the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid and the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid. All other fatty acids can theoretically, if all conditions are correct, be made from these 2 oils. EFA’s have been used and researched for the treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD), brain health and cognition including autism, some autoimmune conditions and cancer. While EFA’s are needed by the body, research has shown some fatty acids are better than others when it comes to therapeutic efficacy.

Fatty acids refer to long chains of hydrocarbons that were once, or can be, a part of the larger molecule known as triacylglyerol (a fat molecule), that normally has 3 fatty acids in it. The naming of omega fatty acids indicates where the first carbon to carbon double bond occurs, for instance, in omega-9 it occurs at the number 9 carbon, in omega-3 it is at the third carbon atom from the methyl end of the molecule. The double bond is what makes the FA unsaturated. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) that have one double bond, at the carbon #9, are called omega-9 oils. Olive oil is very high in the omega-9 oil, oleic acid; avocados are as well. Mediterranean diets are high in omega-9 oils, and it has been speculated that these oils in the diet are protective against heart disease based on the lifespan and expectancy of the people of that region. However, as omega-9 oils are not essential, and most diets have more than enough of them, there is no need for additional supplementation.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Metabolites

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plant-based oils, and are considered polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) because they contain more than one double bond. They are naturally occurring constituents present in sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts. Linoleic acid (LA) is the primary EFA in this group, an 18 carbon long compound. It is prevalent in the standard diet, especially if you eat anything cooked with these oils or eat nuts. LA has little therapeutic value in of itself, but its metabolite, gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) has a stronger effect and is found in certain seeds such as evening primrose, borage and black current. GLA is converted, via an enzyme known as cyclooxygenase, to a prostaglandin of the E series, PGE1. This compound has a direct effect on the reduction of platelet aggregation and contributes to vasodilation, which can benefit those with heart disease. In addition it can also enhance cellular receptors to insulin, which can reduce problems associated with Type II diabetes and insulin resistance syndrome.

Since many people have high amounts of these oils in the diet already through the use of cooking oils, most supplementation is not needed. Our body converts LA to GLA via a desaturase enzyme which makes the molecule longer. This enzyme works as long as it has the proper nutrition and enzyme cofactors: vitamin B3, B6, and the minerals magnesium and zinc.

Arachidonic Acid: How it Creates Disease

However, the natural and more likely chemical conversion of dietary LA will go on to be converted into Arachidonic acid, a 20 carbon long chain fatty acid that is also found in animal products, specifically red meat, dairy and eggs. Arachidonic acid (AA) will lead to PG2 series of chemical mediators, which are pro-inflammatory, contribute to platelet aggregation and increased constriction of the vessels. The platelet aggregation and vessels changes if also coupled with a poor diet- which would favour low nutrients and high blood lipids- can contribute to an increased CVD risk. AA can also create thromboxanes of the 2 series, specifically thromboxane A2 (TXA2) which is a more potent vasoconstrictor and promotes platelet aggregation. In addition, eicosanoid metabolites from AA such as prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), leukotriene B4, 12-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid and TXA2 have all been positively linked to carcinogenesis.

The main pathway for AA into PGs is via a cyclooxygenase enzyme pathway, of which (COX) there are at least 2 different enzymes. COX enzymes always give rise to PG or Thromboxanes (TX) compounds. Some medications can block the activity of these enzymes. Several actually target them (commonly known as COX inhibitors). Some examples are Celebrex, Arcoxia and Mobic. These medications are primarily used for their anti-inflammatory nature. Other medications that actively inhibit COX enzymes are NSAIDS such as aspirin, ibuprofen, indomethacin; and some glucocorticoids like dexamethasone. But the COX enzymes are also needed to make other PG of the series 3 class, which are in of themselves anti-inflammatory. Blocking this enzyme with medication eliminates some of the other beneficial effects the PG3s have; anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, anti-spasmodic and anti-cancer. For the temporary benefit of the anti-inflammation that these medications can give, an individual may be putting themselves at risk for cancer and other chronic disease. But other fatty acids such as omega-3s can change that risk.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Which is the True Essential Fatty Acid?

Omega-3 fatty acids are more than just plant based oils, they are found in abundance in fish and marine products as well as some in seeds like flax, pumpkin and walnut. These are most commonly deficient fatty acids for people consuming a standard Western diet, which includes not only more red meat products but also a significant amount of processed foods. The EFA of the omega-3 class is alpha linoleinc acid (ALA), similar to LA but with 3 carbon to carbon double bonds. The other FAs of this class that are popular in clinical research are eicoapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA has been touted as the primary EFA for dietary supplementation. Studies using ALA show a positive effect on lipid profiles, and it is beneficial in the treatment of CVD, as well as cancer. However, in humans there are no unique functions of ALA, other than as the precursor for EPA and DHA. In some animals ALA is used primarily in skin and hair.

Flaxseed oil is the most common form of supplementation of ALA. It contains approximately 53% ALA, but also 20% of an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid eicosenoic acid (which can also be made from oleic acid), and also 15% of omega 6 fatty acid, linolenic acid, with some of the remaining as saturated fatty acids. High amounts of flaxseed oil in the diet can therefore increase total fat intake considerably. Plus the conversions of ALA to EPA and DHA have been under scrutiny by clinicians and researchers. It is estimated that for every 1 gram of flaxseed oil ingested, only 0.02-6% can be made into EPA and even less, if any, DHA. Given the benefits associated with EPA and DHA, this is not enough for optimal health.

Therapeutic Effects of EPA: Protecting against Heart Disease and Cancer

EPA has the effect of slowing down the production of inflammatory chemicals that result from the arachidonic acid lines. EPA acts as a substrate for the COX enzyme reactions to make anti-inflammatory compounds, and also partially replaces AA in membrane lipids. This replacement allows for more fluidity to the cell.

Specifically, EPA leads to eicosanoids from the series 3 class, PGH3, PGI3 and TXB3. As mentioned above these compounds are anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic and anti-spasmodic. In addition, the PG3 class have anti mutagenic nature and discourage tumour cell proliferation. PGE3 from EPA has been shown to be an antagonist to PGE2 from AA in human lung cancer cells. PGE3 also reduces the activity of aromatase, an enzyme that contributes to elevated oestrogen metabolism and has a direct role in oestrogen mediated cancers. EPA, as well as its metabolite which is also present in fish oils- DHA- also reduces the risk of cancer by suppressing free radical reactive nitrogen species, reactive oxygen species, and free radicals which are implicated in tumour progression and also play a role in atherosclerosis.

Therapeutic Effects of DHA: a Key Nutrient in the Central Nervous System

DHA is the most highly unsaturated fatty acid found in cell membranes. It is found in the highest concentration in the membranes of nerve cells, in the retina and plays a key role in brain development. DHA is normally made from EPA when there is enough in the diet- or it is hypothesized that it is made via beta oxidation in cells. Since DHA has 6 carbon to carbon double bonds, it is considered to be ‘superunsaturated’. This allows for even more cell membrane fluidity allowing for more uninhibited reactivity and regulation for cell functions, which is a highly advantageous milieu for the central nervous system and neurotransmitters. DHA is commonly found in a larger compound, phosphatidylserine, in the brain. In this aspect DHA may affect neuronal membranes, cell metabolism, and specific neuro-transmitter systems, including acetylcholine, noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. These compounds can exert significant benefit on cognition, especially those functions which tend to decline with age- including memory, learning, vocabulary skills and concentration. As DHA plays an important role in the development of growing neural tissues, mothers who supplemented during pregnancy had infants that showed higher mental processing scores, psychomotor development and eye-hand coordination at 4 years of age. When given to school children, DHA has shown to play a beneficial role in enhancing learning capacity and academic performance. These factors also point to a role for DHA in autism and other neurological disorders. There is also evidence to suggest that depletion of DHA may be involved in postpartum depression, which is another reason why it should be recommended that all pregnant women, or women who are trying to get pregnant, supplement with DHA.

Is Fish Oil Supplementation then the Answer?

If we follow the rationale that EPA and DHA are not essential because they both can be made from ALA, supplementation or dietary modifications are not necessary for some people: vegetarians who consume ample amounts of nuts and anyone who consume flaxseeds or oil. But it has been noted that the conversion from flaxseed oil makes only a fraction of EPA and perhaps no DHA. The first conversion of ALA to the next FA requires the enzyme delta-6-desaturase that can be affected in many ways. Desaturase enzymes need specific nutrients and enzyme cofactors: vitamin B3, B6, and minerals magnesium and zinc. Low amounts or deficiencies of those nutrients inactivate the enzyme. An elevated alcohol intake, trans-fatty acids, and saturated fats can all inhibit delta-6-desaturase. Also responsible for lowered enzymatic activity are the viruses HIV and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), of which EBV causes infectious mononucleosis and has been implicated in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Excess insulin, a factor in Type II Diabetes and Insulin Resistance Syndrome can also inhibit the enzyme pathway. A higher intake of omega 6- oils also inhibits the conversion of ALA to EPA by competing for the same delta- 6-desaturase.

Theoretically, humans evolved on a diet consisting of a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Currently, the typical Western diet consists of omega-6: omega-3 ratios between 10:1 and 25:1 and in some cases may be as high as 40:1. Since omega-3 and omega-6 FAs compete for the same enzyme, the high amounts of omega-6 FAs lead to elevated levels of AA in cell membranes. This imbalanced fatty acid ratio is one of the major underlying factors in chronic inflammatory health problems. The metabolites of AA can contribute to CVD and cancer, the two main killer diseases of our age. By manipulating the levels of AA, we can change our disease risk and over all decrease mortality. The best way to change dietary FA is by the addition of fish oils into the diet. It is important to consider the quality and cleanliness of the fish or fish oils consumed, in particular the mercury which is polluting the oceans and the fish. Also of importance are newer dangerous man-made chemicals like dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that also make it way into the fish bodies via the sea. By supplementing with clean, high quality fish oil we can increase health and wellness, clear thinking and awareness, not only for ourselves but for our children and future generations.

Tea For Health

Ever since Emperor Shen Nung discovered the leaves of the Camellia sinensis more than 4500 years ago in ancient China, the health benefits of tea have been known to the Chinese. Books have been written and songs composed to propagate the beliefs about the health benefits of tea. Chinese emperors, for whom tea was nothing less than a tribute, used to even decree royal proclamations as to what form the tea should be presented to them, so that they may derive the maximum from the supposed medicinal properties of the tea leaves. In fact, other than being a rejuvenating drink, the Chinese also claimed that tea was useful for curing lethargy, bladder ailments and tumors.

However, most of these claims were unknown to the world outside China until the late nineteenth century. Even then, they were passed off as rumors and unfounded claims. Recently, though research conducted on tea, especially green tea, have started giving results proving that tea for health might not be that bad an idea after all! In these recent studies, it has been claimed that tea may have anti-cancer properties, it may be able to slow down the spread of HIV in the body, it definitely increases the metabolic rate and mental alertness, and it can also help reduce stress.

Let us have a look at some of the studies done on the composition of tea which show whether really tea is good for health:

· Effects on HIV – Studies have been conducted and found that epigallcatechin gallate (EGCG) found in tea helps boost one’s immune system. Therefore, this helps in throttling the spread of the HIV virus in the body. However, researchers have made it quite clear, that though tea helps in reducing the spread of HIV in the body, it should always be used along with conventional medicines.

· Effects on Metabolic Rate – Tea, especially green tea, have been known to speed up fat oxidation and in crease the metabolic rate. Along with caffeine, the catechin polyphenols present in tea helps speed up the rate at which calories are burnt, thereby increasing substantially the energy consumed.

· Effects on Mental Health and Immune System – Tea has been found to contain amino acid L-theanine which improves the body’s ability to combat diseases by giving a boost to gamma delta T-cells. The L-theanine found in tea also helps keep the brain in an alert state of relaxation by increasing alpha wave production in the brain.

· Effects on Hormone Levels – It has been found that tea, more specifically black tea, can reduce stress hormones in the body and thereby help a person recover more quickly from stress. Also it has been seen that the risk of heart attacks and blood platelet activation are a lot lower in tea drinkers.

· Effects on Alzheimer’s – The epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) can also protect the brain and fight Alzheimer’s disease. It helps prevent buildup of abnormal levels of beta-amyloid plaque which is responsible for causing the Alzheimer’s disease.

The above illustrated examples are only some of the many benefits of drinking the various varieties of tea. Besides these, tea is also rumored to be beneficial in fighting diabetes and preventing cognitive impairment, though these are yet to be effectively proven through studies. Still, there is no doubt that tea for health is no longer just a marketing strategy of tea companies, but a reality!

Sleep: Health and Stress

Are we educated about sleep? Children don’t get taught about sleep in school.

They are some times told to get a good night’s sleep in preparation of a test the next day. That’s it.

Most of us need eight hours of sound sleep to function at our best, and good health demands good sleep, and helps reduce stress.

The Function of Sleep

Surprisingly, it’s not how much sleep you get that’s important it’s the level of sleep you achieve that truly restores you, body and mind.

Sleep can be divided into two crucial phases:

1) Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep takes up 80% of the average dreamer’s night. The earliest phase of NREM sleep begins with general relaxation of muscles. This relaxed state eventually culminates in the deepest sleep level when it appears that protein synthesis, growth hormones, immune function, and the mind are given a boost. Delta waves “the slowest and largest waves” signal the onset of this most rejuvenating sleep level, which constitutes 50% of an adult’s sleep time.

2) Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep takes up about 25% of an average sleeper’s night. Dreams that occur during REM sleep might provide, in a sense, a sorting through of free-floating information. Prolonged REM deprivation has been linked to excessively anxious or emotional behavior that dissipates once more regular sleeping habits are achieved. REM sleep is thought to be the most important period for mental revitalization.

Risky Consequences From Sleeplessness

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated $35 billion is lost yearly in productivity, sick leave, medical expenses, and property and environmental damage because of sleep deprivation and untreated sleep disorders.

It’s more than a simple matter of dragging yourself through the day. On-the-job dozing can dearly cost the sleep-deprived worker and those around him.

For example, the environmentally disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska reportedly involved the sleepiness of the tanker’s third-mate.

The problem also hits much closer to home. Driver fatigue has been identified as the greatest accident risk factor affecting motor carriers.

Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 crashes per year are caused by drivers nodding off behind the wheel and that thousands die as the result of such accidents.

The National Sleep Foundation’s poll even found that 23% of those questioned had dozed off while driving some time in the past year.

It would seem that people know not to drive drunk but not to refrain from driving tired.
If your eyes are closing on you, the only surefire way to save your life as well as others is to pull over to the side of the road and give in to sleep.

Is Lifestyle the Culprit?

How is it that there is an epidemic of sleepiness so severe in the United States that it kills people regularly? In the first decade of this century” prior to the widespread usage of electricity” Americans basically bedded down at nightfall.

Since then, they have lived increasingly longer days. They also lead driven lifestyles, attempting to balance successful career and home lives. The exhausting modern schedule leaves little time for the “luxury” of sleep.

Who Is Most Affected?

Late shift workers. Not only do Americans give up a good night’s rest in an attempt to keep up with the hectic pace of the electronic age, many, including late shift healthcare, military and public safety workers, nuclear power plant operators, medical residents, and long-haul truck drivers, are building daily schedules against the body’s natural circadian rhythm.

That rhythm dictates that the longest period of sleepiness occurs during the hours of 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Thus, people who work the late shift lose out on the time that the body is programmed for the deepest and most beneficial sleep.

Older adults. The elderly, too, cope with a special set of difficulties that keeps them from getting the sleep they need. Aging brings on a host of health and stress related problems.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and exercise at least four hours before bedtime.

Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, and alcohol, though a depressant that makes falling asleep easier initially, interferes with deep sleep later on during the night. Exercise also acts as a stimulant, but a workout earlier in the day can improve nighttime rest.

Leave worrying outside the bed. If you stay awake worrying about things you have to tackle the next day, write out a list of “to-dos” to take the pressure off. Then put the list aside to deal with the next day.

Keep other activities out of the bedroom. Don’t confuse your bedroom with your family room. Keep your television viewing and Net surfing out of your sleeping quarters.

Reduce noise levels. Apartment-dwellers with noisy neighbors or those on heavily trafficked streets can block out noise with a fan or sound-simulating machine that mimic nature sounds (such as the ocean or rain).

What are the 4 Brainwave Patterns and How Do They Effect Your Health


Every moment of your life your brain is active. It is pulsing
with electrical impulses; you heard that right, electricity! The
electricity or electrical current generated by the brain can be
measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures the
frequency of the electrical current. This frequency or speed of
the brainwave is measured in Hertz(HZ).

Now here is the really cool part. These frequencies can be
associated with your state of mind at any particular moment.
This means that your state of mind, for example being relaxed,
frightened, or sleepy…can be “seen” in your brainwave
frequencies. The speed of the frequency allows us to categorize
our brainwaves into four broad categories.


There are four common brainwave patterns that have been well
researched and documented. They are:

BETA WAVES – 14Hz to 20Hz. Beta waves are associated with normal
waking consciousness. They are present when you are focused on
activities in the outside world.

ALPHA WAVES – 8Hz to 13Hz. Alpha waves are likened to a light
meditation. They are prevalent when you daydream. They will
become stronger when your eyes are closed.

THETA WAVES – 4Hz to 7Hz. Theta waves occur during heightened
states of creativity and are found with a deep meditative state.

DELTA WAVES – .5Hz to 3Hz. Delta waves are found in a deep sleep
state or unconsciousness. Also, Delta waves are common in very
deep meditation.


A predominance of Alpha waves in the brain is associated with
accelerated learning, focus and enhanced creativity. When you
are focus on something, there is a predominance of Alpha waves.
No matter what your profession or hobby, these attributes will
increase your productivity and enhance your experience.


A deep meditative state is true bliss. Increase your Theta waves
and you are on your way to this state. In the Theta state you
can lose your attachment to the physical body. You will feel a
deep sense of physical relaxation. This disconnect of mind and
body allows you to focus on the inner you, the higher self. This
is the ideal state to begin your journey into meditation.


A Delta state has long been associated with sleep. If you have
trouble sleeping, the CDs targeting this range will help
immensely. Having a CD that targets the Delta brainwaves will
allow you to enter a deep sleep state easily. It will be time to
say goodbye to insomnia!

Recently there has also been some research that suggests that an
even deeper meditative state can occur during predominate Delta
wave activity. As you gain experience and comfort with
meditation, you may want to try reaching a Delta state during

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes
only and is not intended to medically diagnose, treat or cure any
disease. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any
health care program.