EFAs – Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Also known as alpha-linolenic-acid, omega-3 fatty acid may play an important role in human growth, development, and disease prevention. It is called essential fatty acid (EFA) because it can not be synthesized by humans and has to be ingested. It is an integral part of the cell membrane in all tissues throughout the body. It is these membranes that control the micro-flow of nutrients and waste materials in and out of each cell. Deficiency of EFAs prevents the cells from performing as well as they should. Epidemiological and clinical trial evidence suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) might also have a significant role in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Dietary sources of omega-3 PUFAs include plants rich in linolenic acid.
Randomized clinical trials with fish oils and linolenic acid have demonstrated reductions in risk that compare favorably with those seen in landmark secondary prevention trials with lipid-lowering drugs. Several mechanisms explaining the cardioprotective effect of omega-3 PUFAs have been suggested, including antiarrhythmic, hypolipidemic, and antithrombotic roles. “Fish is an important source of omega-3 PUFAs in the US diet; however, vegetable sources, including grains and oils offer an alternative source for those who are unable to regularly consume fish.” [Harper & Jacobson]. In addition, obtaining EFAs from plants also reduces the pressure on fish stocks.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids affect growth, vitality, and mental state. They are involved in converting food substances into usable energy, then transporting that energy throughout the body. They favorably affect atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, inflammatory disease, and perhaps even behavioral disorders. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children with lower compositions of total omega-3 fatty acids had significantly more behavioral problems, temper tantrums, and learning, health, and sleep problems than did those with high proportions of omega-3 fatty acid.
Omega-3 deficiencies are associated with the neurological impairments, such as:
- decreased memory and mental abilities
- tingling sensation of the nerves
- poor vision
- increased tendency to form blood clots
- diminished immune function
- increased triglycerides and cholesterol
- impaired membrane function
- growth retardation particularly in infants, children, and pregnant women.
Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids
Linoleic acid (LNA) or omega-6 deficiencies are associated with:
- scaly skin
- seborrheic dermatitis
- hair loss
- liver damage
- kidney damage
- slow healing of internal injuries
- sterility in men
- negative effects on the circulatory system
- circulatory problems can include elevated blood triglycerides and cholesterol
- increased blood pressure
- impaired membrane function
- hardening of the arteries
- artery obstruction
- incorporation of cholesterol and fat in arterial walls
- in children, omega-6 deficiency can result in stunted growth.
Both of these fatty acids are needed by the body to manufacture other EFAs. The body uses linolenic acid to produce both dososahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and uses linoleic acid to produce arachidonic acid (AA) and gamma linoleic acid (GLA).
Moore, M. 1979: Medicinal Herbs of the West (1974) University of New Mexico Press;
White A. et al: 1978: Principles of Bio Chemistry 6th ed. New York McGraw-Hill p. 643;
Oster, P. et al: Research in Experimental Medicine (Berlin) 175.287.291.
Monounsaturates are a good source of essential oils. Purslane contains less monounsaturates than fish oil but is better absorbed by the body, therefore is highly beneficial as a fatty acid. It is the richest source of LNA of any green leafy vegetable investigated to date.
These are known as the “bad fats.” Saturated fatty acids are found mostly in animal fats such as lard, butter, dairy products, meats and most processed foods. Purslane does not have any saturated fats in it.
Cholesterol is another member of the lipid family. It is found only in foods of animal origin. Too much additional cholesterol in the body contributes to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. However, some cholesterol is needed to maintain proper cell membrane health. Purslane contains no cholesterol.
Sterols and Sterolins
These compounds are similar in structure to cholesterol; however, they may act to lower cholesterol levels.
“There is an increasing body of evidence that oxidative stress is linked to many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease), cataracts and arthritis. One of our strongest defenses is to eat foods containing natural antioxidants.” [CFIA, Nutrition Research Division, Antioxidant Vitamin Research]. Taking antioxidants will help supply the body with the tools it needs in fighting free radicals, which have the potential to cause great harm in the body. If allowed to increase uncontrollably and are not eliminated from the body, free radicals can alter genes causing unwanted genetic mutations. They can also alter cell membranes, tissues, and organs, resulting in a variety of chronic health problems including cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, birth defects, and arthritis, etc.
They help to neutralize the damage of oxidation in the body. Oxidation in the body is similar to what happens to metal when it rusts or when a freshly-cut apple turns brown. Many things cause this oxidation but the major causes are air and water pollution, industrial chemicals, cigarette smoke, drugs, rancid oils, and stress. “In a study carried out to determine the glutathione content of 98 food items identified by the National Cancer Institute to contribute 90% or more of calories, dietary fiber, and 18 major nutrients in our recommended diet. Only fresh asparagus and avocado were higher in glutathione.” [Simopoulos, 1999]. “The protective role of glutathione, an antioxidant and detoxifying agent, has been demonstrated in various clinical studies. It is a ubiquitous compound that is synthesized rapidly in the liver, kidneys, and other tissue including the gastrointestinal tract.” [Simopoulos].
Glutathione may protect cells from carcinogenic processes through a number of mechanisms:
a. by functioning as an antioxidant;
b. by binding with mutagenic chemical compounds
c. by directly or indirectly acting to maintain functional levels of other antioxidants such as Beta-carotene and vitamins C and E;
d. through its involvement in DNA synthesis and repair;
e. by enhancing the immune system. [Simopoulos – adapted from Jones et al].
In a private study conducted at POS Pilot Plant located on the University of Saskatchewan campus (Project 00-781.A), it was demonstrated that Purslane had at least two times higher antioxidant activity than equal serving sizes of commercially-available cranberry and grape seed extracts.
Antioxidants such as glutathione and vitamins A, C, and E provide the following benefits:
- prevent the inflammatory enzyme PKC from going into overdrive and causing damage to the blood vessels
- reduce the oxidation of LDL (a major problem for most diabetics)
- prevent platelets from becoming sticky and from piling on to cause plaque
- prevent life-threatening blood clots.
Through proper diet and food supplementation, type 2 diabetics can reduce their insulin needs significantly. Time and time again, studies have demonstrated that for type 2 diabetics, Purslane reduces the amount of insulin needed. If you or someone you love suffers from diabetes, consider arming yourself for the fight with a natural remedy. Remember that a diabetic’s diet is very important and that no diabetic should stop his or her insulin without first consulting with a doctor.