Quick and easy tips on how to safely use essential oils
Fatty acids are the basic building blocks of fats and oils. Essential fatty acids are a component of dietary fat vital to physiological function. Because the body cannot make them, it is essential that they be obtained through dietary sources.
Essential fatty acids have a significant effect on every system in the body and we cannot survive without them. They:
- help build and produce healthy cells, tissues and organs
- support proper thyroid and adrenal activity required for growth and energy
- are crucial to brain and nerve development and function
- improve cardiovascular function by keeping the arteries supple and lowering blood pressure
- aid digestion
- bolster immunity and assist in the removal of toxins from the body
- improve the health and function of the skin and hair
- are crucial in the breakdown and transport of cholesterol
Skin disorders, including eczema and dry or scaly skin, dry hair, hair loss, nail problems, gall stones, liver problems, varicose veins, susceptibility to infection, low body weight, infertility and retarded growth may indicate a deficiency in essential fatty acids.
There are two main categories of essential fatty acids based on their chemical structures:
- Omega-3 also known as alpha linolenic acid
- Omega-6 also known as linoleic acid
Note the subtle spelling difference between ‘linolenic’ and ‘linoleic". Occasionally essential fatty acids (EFAs)are referred to as vitamin F or polyunsaturates.
The essential fatty acids play an integral role preconception, pregnancy, labour and postpartum. They are crucial:
- in the production of prostaglandins
- for the healthy development and function of your baby’s brain
- in decreasing the likelihood of premature birth and its associated
- in reducing the incidence of low birth weight babies
- in treating the condition pre-eclampsia
EFAs are converted to prostaglandins, a group of fatty acids made naturally in the body that act as chemical messengers (hormones). There are many different prostaglandins thought to play a role in the regulation and function of every organ and cell in the human body.
During pregnancy, prostaglandins play an integral role in stimulating and maintaining hormonal levels necessary for successful conception, pregnancy, labour and postpartum. For example, during labour, it is the release of prostaglandins that stimulate the release of oxytocin and help soften the connective tissue of the cervix in preparation for birth.
EFAs assist in the transmission of nerve impulses and are vital for normal development and functioning of your baby’s brain. Deficiency is linked to an impaired ability to learn and recall information.An omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (Docohexaenoic acid) found in high concentrations in brain tissue, is believed to be essential to brain development and growth, ultimately affecting learning ability.
The vast majority of human brain growth occurs in the womb – especially during the third trimester – and immediately following birth. In fact as much as 50% of the brain’s DHA is formed during foetal development and the remaining 50% accumulates in the following first year or so. It is important, therefore, that the growing foetus has an adequate supply via the pregnant mother’s diet.
Furthermore, because it is thought that an infant has very little or no enzymatic capability to make its own DHA, it is important that the EFAs are provided through diet, ideally via breastfeeding. This is especially relevant in cases of pre-term or low birth weight babies.
A recent American study found that disturbed sleep patterns of infants may indicate that the baby’s central nervous system has not fully developed as a result of a deficiency in EFAs. The study found that babies born to mothers with adequate intakes of essential fatty acids, had more mature sleep patterns with less transitional sleep – the time between sleep and wakefulness.
Pre-eclampsia is a complication of pregnancy characterised by high blood pressure, oedema (swelling due to fluid retention) and an excess of protein in the urine. The cause is not known. Untreated it can progress to a more serious condition called eclampsia.
The EFAs are recommended in the treatment of pre-eclampsia as they help improve circulation, lower blood pressure and thin the blood. Caution: if you have blood-clotting problems a supplement including the EFAs is contra-indicative.