The health benefits of essential fatty acids may be many, particularly if your daily diet does not provide adequate amounts of these important nutrients. Originally referred to as vitamin F, scientists eventually learned that the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 were better suited to be classified with the fats, specifically with the polyunsaturated fats.
Unlike other types of dietary fat, such as saturated and trans fat, the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 are absolutely necessary for human health. They cannot be created within the body, even when other fatty acids are present.
The essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 are further broken down into two groups called long chain or short chain. For the most part, long chain fatty acids can be created within the body when short chains are present in the diet.
However, the process by which the short chain omega 3s are converted to the long chains is very inefficient. So, to get the full health benefits of essential fatty acids, we need to include both short chain and long chain omega 3 fatty acids in the diet, as well as adequate amounts of either type of omega 6.
Contrary to what you may have heard, omega 9 fatty acids are not essential, both because other forms of unsaturated fat can be converted to omega 9 within the body and because they cannot be used to form eicosanoids, which perform many functions at a cellular level in the human body.
The essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 are converted within the body to eicosanoids and other compounds that are important to the immune system, the nervous system, the cardiovascular system and the majority of cells and organs in the human body. Thus, the health benefits of essential fatty acids can cover the entire body, including the skin, if they are lacking in the diet.
Remember that balance is an absolute necessity. In order to avoid weight gain, the total amount of fat in an adult's diet should not exceed 25-35% of total caloric intake. Protein and carbohydrates are also important.
Recommendations for daily consumption of the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 vary. The USDA guidelines suggest 1.1g-1.6g of omega 3 per day for women and men respectively. They conclude that the primary health benefits of essential fatty acids classified as omega 3 are to the nervous system and for the production of eicosanoids.
USDA recommendations for omega 6 are 12-17g/day for men depending on their age, with requirements being highest between the ages of 19 and 50. For women, the USDA suggests 10-13g/day with the highest needs during pregnancy or while breast feeding. They list a few health benefits of essential fatty acids classified as omega 6, including normal healthy skin, communications between the cells and for the construction of membranes throughout the body.
The National Institutes of Health, on the other hand, recently published recommendations for daily intake of essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 that differ significantly from those of the USDA. They suggest nearly 3 grams per day of omega 3 fatty acids for adult men or women at any age, including at least 650mg of long chain omega 3 fatty acids which are found almost exclusively in oily fish and fish oils. Their recommendations for omega-6 is only 4.4g/day.
The FDA weighs in with their suggestion of no more than 3 grams per day of omega 3 fatty acids from fish of which no more than 2 grams or 2000mg per day should come from a dietary supplement. They make no specific recommendations for omega 6 fatty acids.
All of these different recommendations are due to the known health benefits of essential fatty acids, the research indicating that there are numerous health benefits associated with diets in which most of the fat is polyunsaturated and the research pertaining specifically to omega 3 fatty acids. Sticking with mostly polyunsaturated fat in the diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Research indicates that increased omega 3 consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease, help to lower cholesterol and possibly reduce the risk of cancer. Other health benefits of essential fatty acids classified as omega 3 are being studied. These include benefits to those who suffer from Autism, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and Huntington's disease.
There is enough supportive research to conclude that increased consumption of omega 3 can relieve the symptoms of depression and attention deficit disorder.
There is also a significant amount of evidence supporting the use of omega 3 supplements as a complementary therapy for patients suffering from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Research indicates that if there is a lack of omega 3 in the diet, the eicosanoids and other compounds derived from omega 6 fatty acids can become “out of control" and lead to serious health consequences.
Just one example of the health benefits of essential fatty acids, when balanced between omega 6 and omega 3, lies in the treatment of arthritis. Clinical research has shown that patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis experienced a reduction in pain, morning stiffness and need for prescription pain relievers after recieving omega 3 supplements from fish oil for as little as one month.
The bottom line is that balanced consumption of the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 should lead to better overall health. The health benefits of essential fatty acids mentioned here are only the beginning of the story.
Dan Ho is editor of http://www.omega-3-fish-oil-guide.com Visit us for tips and advice on how to select a quality fish oil eseential fatty acids supplement.