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Nutrition for Optimal Wellness

Essential Fatty Acids and Brain Health

News from NOW's Quality Assurance Department

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are types of fatty acids that humans are unable to produce de novo, but are necessary for many biochemical processes. Therefore, these fatty acids, like vitamins and minerals, must be supplied by the diet in order to maintain health. EFAs are integral cell membrane components, affecting membrane fluidity and cell signaling activities. They also act as precursors for eicosanoids, the mediators of inflammatory processes in the body.

There are two classes of EFAs: omega-3 and omega-6. The most basic forms of these fatty acids, Ą-Linolenic Acid (LNA) and Linoleic Acid, respectively, are found in plant foods. Although LNA and LA carry out some functions in the human body, they must be converted into other fatty acids before they can realize their full biological potential. LA is ultimately converted into Arachidonic Acid (AA); LNA is converted into EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and finally into DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). However, humans have a limited ability to convert LNA into EPA and DHA (1). Consequently, we are dependent on dietary sources of these two fatty acids.

AA, EPA, and DHA all play critical roles in the properties and physiological functions of cell membranes. The brain is particularly rich in EFAs, namely AA and DHA and changes associated with its tissue membrane composition are a reflection of the fats supplied in the diet. The functional and structural integrity of brain cell membranes is dependent upon a balance of these two fatty acids for normal function. Decline in brain cell function is usually correlated with decreased DHA concentrations. For example, studies have shown that neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer¡¦s Disease (2), as well as psychiatric disorders such as Depression (3) and Bipolar Disorder (4) are all associated with DHA deficiencies.

The typical American diet is very poor in the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Fortunately, dietary supplementation with fish oils can ameliorate these deficiencies. NOW Foods offers a number of fish oil supplements, including NOW Omega-3, NOW Salmon Oil, and DHA-250. NOW procures only the highest quality oils. They are molecularly distilled to remove heavy metals such as Mercury and Lead, as well as other impurities such as PCBs.

1. Nutr Rev (1986) 44:125-134
2. Br J Nutr (2003) 89(4)483-489
3. Prostaglandins Leukotr Essent Fatty Acids (2002) 67(5):311-318
4. Psychiatry Res (2003) 121(2):109-122


Our online product catalog offers a wide selection of Essential Fatty Acids