Essential fatty acid (EFA) is unsaturated fatty acid that the body requires for sound health and optimal functioning. Most people immediately alienate themselves from fat to lose weight. However, contrary to common perception, losing fat is not always equivalent to losing weight. Certain kinds of fats such as EFAs provide necessary nutrition to the body and prevent it from breaking down. In other words, EFAs are “good” fats.

These fatty acids are called “essential” because the human body cannot make them on its own and has to rely on external elements such as food for optimum supply. Omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid are essential fatty acids because a human body cannot naturally produce it.

Types

Essential fatty acids can be divided as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both these fats should be in a specific ratio to be termed healthy for the body – for instance, 2:1, or 1:1. But most modern diets are guilty of not providing this balance. For example, the average Western diet has both the fats in the 20:1 ratio. Probably, the only viable way to restore a healthy balance is by adding more fish to the diet, or taking omega-3 supplements.

Benefits

EFAs are required for the proper functioning of all body tissues. Their major benefits are as following:

  • Formation of healthy cell membranes
  • Improved body homeostasis or metabolism
  • Proper adrenal and thyroid activity
  • Hormone production
  • Proper functioning and development of the nervous system and brain
  • Vital for transporting and breaking down cholesterol

Consuming sufficient amount of EFAs during lactation and pregnancy is important, as they assist with fetal growth and brain development. Essential fatty acid also helps infants’ body tissues to function normally.

EFA Deficiency

An essential fatty acid deficiency could lead to scaly dry rashes, reduced growth in kids and infants, increased vulnerability to infection, and inability to heal wounds fast enough. Depression, reduced immune function, and kidney and liver abnormalities are likely when there isn’t sufficient EFAs in the body. Also, EFA deficiency has some level of correlation with several diseases such as diabetes, mental disorders, hypertension, atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of arteries), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), immune dysfunction, eczema, and inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.