Essential Fatty Acid Supplements FAQ
What are Essential Fatty Acids and Where do They Come From?
Essential fatty acids are named as such because they are fatty acids that we as humans must consume from food sources in order to sustain life.
In other words, the human body is unable to synthesize these fatty acids from other nutrients so the only way for us to actually access them is through food or supplements.
The term essential fatty acid or EFA is used specifically to refer to fats that are used for specific biological processes in the body; fats that are used solely as fuel are not termed as such.
Production of Essential Fatty Acid Supplements
EFA supplements are produced through a variety of extraction methods from animal and plant sources.
Below we are going to look at the various types of EFA before moving on to the food sources from which they can be sourced.
What Types of Essential Fatty Acids are There?
Common examples of EFA include the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentanoic acid or EPA and docosahexanoic acid or DHA, both of which are most typically sourced from salmon, krill, mackerel, sardine, and other oily fish.
It is interesting to note that the omega-3 fatty acid linoleic acid or ALA found in flaxseed can be converted into more usable forms of omega-3 such as EPA and DHA, and it too is considered to be an essential fatty acid.
Other examples of EFA include gamma-Linolenic acid or GLA, such as is found in evening primrose oil, and arachidic acid or AA, which is found in peanuts.
Interestingly, arachidic acid has become increasingly popular as a sports and bodybuilding supplement as research has shown it to be beneficial in increasing lean muscle mass, strength, and explosive force.
What are the Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids?
The health benefits of EFA are numerous and far reaching, including:
- Improved mood and energy levels
- Reduction of inflammation
- DNA function and cell signaling
- Increased strength and lean mass by way of the COX-2 pathway
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reduction in total blood cholesterol and triglycerides
How this translates into benefits for bodybuilding and athletics should be quite clear as any physical endeavor will require some degree of stamina, strength, endurance, and mental focus, not to mention the emotional motivation to actually get started in the first place.
Who Can Benefit from Using Essential Fatty Acids?
Every living human being needs essential fatty acids for survival, and there is little doubt that people from all walks of life could stand to benefit from using one or more EFA supplement.
Elderly individuals suffering from arthritic symptoms and rheumatism, overweight individuals with high cholesterol, or simply your local high school jock who recently put his knee out; all of these people and many more could potentially benefit from incorporating more EFA into their diet.
Do Any Foods Contain Fatty Acids? Which Ones are the best?
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are as follows:
- Oily fish
- Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
Please note that polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs such as omega-3 are highly susceptible to oxidization and denaturing through exposure to heat, light, and oxygen. For this reason it is generally not recommended that you use oils containing high levels of omega-3 for cooking.
Many food manufacturers will place labels on their packaging boasting about the omega-3 content of their cooking oils but in actual fact this may counterproductive!
Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Almonds, Macadamia, and other nuts
- Hemp oil
Omega-9 fatty acids are not considered EFA because they can be synthesized in the body from carbohydrates.
Do EFA Products Have any Side Effects?
The main side effects, if they can be called that, associated with EFA are in situations where an individual is consuming an excessive level of a certain kind.
An example of this is the average American diet which contains a ratio of omega-6:omega-3 between 10:1 and 25:1.
Considering the optimal ratio is somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1 we can quickly see why heart disease, obesity, diabetes, joint inflammation, and other ailments are common throughout much of the population.
As with any dietary supplement, we recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consult their doctor or physician prior to use. This also applies to people under the age of 18 and individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions or who are taking any kind of prescription medication.
 Simopoulos AP. Essential fatty acids in health and chronic disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70:560S-569S.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
How and When Should I Use Essential Fatty Acid Supplements?
This is going to depend on your existing diet, your current health status, and the kind of EFA supplements you are using, so we recommend that you refer to the manufacturer’s usage guidelines.
How much Should I Take?
Again, it is difficult to say, so please refer to the manufacturer’s usage guidelines.
As a quick point of reference, omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplements are probably the most common EFA supplement on the market, of which a daily dose of 2 – 6g is highly popular.
Do I Need an EFA Supplement if I Eat Plenty of Fats?
This is a difficult question to answer without looking at your existing diet, but it certainly can’t hurt to add a few grams of fish oil to your daily supplement regimen.
Related: Top Fish Oil Pills
Where Can I Find More Information About Fish Oil and EFA Supplements?
Our supplement reviews are jam packed full of information about all kinds of different products so you can gain a clear understanding of exactly what is included before making your purchase.
This is also a great way of reading some of the benefits specific to each product so you can determine whether or not a specific type of EFA supplement is actually relevant to your needs or if it is worth fitting into your budget.
What is the Right Essential Fatty Acid Supplement for Me?
Considering EFAs are vital for long-term health and wellbeing we recommend doing your utmost to get the very most out of your diet by eating a variety of oily fish, nuts, and seeds.
If you would like to add some extra EFA to your diet then the most likely candidate will be an omega-3 supplement, typically either in the form of fish oil or krill oil.
Krill oil is a more expensive option but it does offer superior absorption rates and greater antioxidant properties, so it is well worth considering if you can factor it into your budget.
Aside from this, you might like to look at items such as almonds, walnuts, macadamia, flaxseed, and extra virgin olive oil as EFA supplements as this will be a delicious and incredibly nutritious way of adding lots of healthy fats to your diet.
Please note: This FAQ has not been written or reviewed by a doctor or medical professional and is therefore not to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness. Nor should it be used as medical reference.