Recognising EFA deficiencies

Let’s start this controversial topic with a rather bold statement: If you are following a typical Western diet you are most likely to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. If you are following a typical LOW FAT Western diet, you are most likely to be deficient in ALL essential fatty acids (EFA)!

If you suffer from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, eczema, acne or psoriasis, chances are you are suffering from an omega-3 deficiency.

You can already deduce the core message of this article, which is everybody (men, women and children) should supplement their diet with high quality essential fatty acids, or at the very least some fish oil. Surely you’re not satisfied with this outlandish claim, following recommendations blindly without seeing hard scientific evidence first? In the case of EFA deficiencies you don’t have to trawl the internet for hours or spend days in the British Library…… support for EFA supplementation is plentiful.

The first place to start is to look at a human’s diet before agriculture and the industrial revolution. The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 was typically 1:2, with plenty of fish, game, seeds and nutritious eggs. Today, this ratio has shifted closer to 1:30 and two fillets of farmed salmon a week will not correct this imbalance. Our need for sufficient omega-3 is so widespread that almost all of us have experienced deficiency symptoms at one point; perhaps not as severe as mental disorders, growth retardation or visual impairments but much more common issues which are not usually attributed to an omega-3 deficiency. I should add at this point that an EFA deficiency is not a medically recognised condition, however high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, inflammatory skin conditions (eczema, acne, psoriasis), autoimmune conditions and, in fact, any inflammation in the body is a sign of sub-optimal omega-3 levels! The first and foremost step to address any of these symptoms is to drastically shift your diet away from processed plant and animal fats towards fish, virgin nut and seed oils and some unprocessed fat of animal origin. Secondly, invest in a high quality fish oil supplement. Your initial dosage has to be much higher than a maintenance dose because you are aiming to correct a deficiency and it will take your body a while to revert to a natural, symptom-free state. Lastly, an often overlooked system that needs desperate attention in order to saturate the blood with omega-3 goodness is your digestive system!

Before mass agriculture and the industrial revolution. the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 was typically 1:2; today, this ratio has shifted closer to 1:30.

Before mass agriculture and the industrial revolution, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 was typically 1:2; today, this ratio has shifted closer to 1:30.

Fat is notoriously hard to digest. A variety of enzymes and bile salts are required to split up a fat molecule, make it water-soluble and squeeze it through the gut membrane to reach your blood stream intact. It’s much like adding washing up liquid to a greasy pan to emulsify the cooking oil. From experience, we know that water alone is not enough! Even if your diet is teeming with wild, oily fish and fresh, raw nuts and seeds, if you are not digesting these oils properly your organs will be starved of much needed omega-3. By taking a digestive enzyme alongside your omega-3 capsules or your salmon dinner, you are leaving nothing to chance.

The situation looks even more dire when you are following, or have ever followed, an all too common low fat diet. This is the perfect way to cut out all essential fats and test how long it will take you to develop symptoms related to an EFA deficiency, specifically omega-3! The first thing you might notice is your hair and nails tuning soft and splitting, your skin will feel dry and may even erupt in a scale-like itchy rash; in fact, most mucous membranes will lose their moisture, such as your eyes, throat and sinuses. Next, you will become more susceptible to infections and small cuts and bruises will take longer to heal. You’ll find it increasingly hard to concentrate, react poorly to stressful situations and even experience mood changes or depression. Finally, your digestion will suffer, food intolerances and leaky gut syndrome become all too common and before you know it, arthritis has taken hold of your knees and knuckle joints. Every cell in your body depends on fatty acids and every cell in your body will be affected by a deficiency!

If you find it hard to digest fats, it's a good idea to take a digestive enzyme alongside your omega-3 supplement for optimal absorption.

If you find it hard to digest fats, it’s a good idea to take a digestive enzyme alongside your omega-3 supplement for optimal absorption.

It should not come as a surprise that sufficient intake of specifically omega-3 oils, which includes fats of animal origin, can reverse all of the deficiency symptoms mentioned above! A low fat diet should be approached with extreme caution or, better yet, avoided at all cost! In contrast to commonly popularised beliefs, a diet high in natural, unprocessed nut and seed oils including some saturated fat slashes your risk of all-cause mortality by a significant percentage.

Some individuals have no choice but to follow a fat restricted diet because they have lost the ability to digest dietary fat. Gall stones or removal of the gall bladder severely compromises fat digestion. Such unlucky patients pose the greatest risk of EFA shortfalls and supplementation of omega-3 and omega-6 is absolutely necessary. Their digestive system is so gravely compromised that small doses should be taken several times a day in combination with a digestive enzyme. Adding lecithin to meals allows the addition of some fat because it mimics the action of your own bile salts.

It might be a daunting thought but unless we take active steps to include not just ‘sufficient’ but rather large quantities of natural, unprocessed, preferably raw fats in our diet, we are all at risk of EFA deficiency!

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Lola Renton

About Lola Renton

Lola Renton is a leading Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons) and product consultant with a passion for anything edible. She is a published health writer for national publications and international magazines and a down-to-earth blogger in cyber space. In the confusing and contradicting world of nutrition, it is her aim to set the record straight and serve her followers delicate pearls of nutrition on an entertaining, light hearted plate.