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 Essential Fatty Acids: 
What the body needs and how it uses them.

        Essential Fatty Acids (EFAS) are termed "essential" because the body cannot produce them, and must therefore be obtained from the diet. EFAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), of which there are two classes; Omega-6 and Omega-3. The most important PUFAs for human nutrition in each series are as follows: 

Omega-6:

                Linoleic Acid (LA)                                                 C18:2n6

                Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)                               C18:3n6

                Dihomogamma Linolenic Acid (OGLA)                 C20:3n6

                Arachidonic Acid (AA)                                         C20:4n6

Omega-3:

                Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)                                  C18:3n3

                Stearidonic Acid                                                  C18:4n3

                Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)                              C20:5n3

                Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)                              C22:6n3

        Of these two classes. only LA of the omega-6 series and ALA of the omega-3 series are considered "essential".
An Essential Fatty Acid is one the body can NOT produce. It must be consumed in the diet.
The remaining PUFAs can be considered "conditionally essential" because, under normal conditions, they can be derived from the metabolism of LA ( Omega-6 fatty acid) or ALA (Omega-3 fatty acid) in the following pathways:
 

 

Metabolic Pathway for Omega-6 Fatty Acids

 

(LA) Omega 6;  Linoleic Acid (C18:2n-6)

 D-6-D (Delta 6 Desaturase enzyme)

(GLA) Gamma Linolenic Acid (C18:3n-6)

 elongase

Dihomo-Gamma Linolenic Acid (C20:3n-6)

 D-5-D

Arachidonic Acid (C20:4n6)

 

 

Metabolic Pathway for Omega-3 Fatty Acids

 

Omega 3 (ALA) Alpha-Linolenic Acid (C18:3n-3)

 D-6-D

Stearidonic Acid (C18:4n-3)

 elongase

Eicosatetraenoic Acid (C20:4n-3)

 D-5-D

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (C20:5n-3)

 

Function of Essential Fatty Acids: 
        Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are stored in the cell membranes of tissues, and have two primary functions. First they are structural components of cell membranes where they ensure fluidity, stability, and act as gate-keepers in the cells. Their presence in membranes also helps to ensure the integrity of the epidermal layer of the skin and regulate moisture loss. Second, within the cell membrane, they serve as substrates for the enzymes cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LO) which convert the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids into a number of important, very active, short-lived, hormone-like compounds reterred to as eicosanoids. The eicosanoids are twenty carbon compounds and include prostaglandins (PG), thromboxanes CYX), and leukotrienes (LT). Ekosanoids influence numerous metabolic activities including platelet aggregation (blood cloning), inflammation, haemorrhage, vasoconstrialon and vasodilation, as well as blood pressure and immune function. The omega-6 and omega-3 metabolic pathways are linked in that they both compete for the same desaturase and elongase enzymes However, these enzymes appear to give preference to the omega-3 pathway over the omega-6. It is also important to note that these two classes of PUFAs are metabolically and functionally distinct because they exert opposing physiological functions. For this reason, it is highly important that balances of both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are consumed. 

Importance of an optimal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid balance: 
        A number of sources indicate that man evolved on a diet that consisted of a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Currently, the typical Western diet consists of a 10:1 - 25:1 ratio, and maybe as high as 40:1. This elevated ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 results in an imbalance between these two classes. This high ratio is due in part to the development of the modern "vegetable oil" industry, which has dramatically increased the omega-6 intake in the form of linoleic acid; coupled with the discovery of hydrogenation, which has dramatically decreased the alpha linolenic acid component of vegetable oils. It is critical that this disturbance in EFA balance is corrected via the consumption of appropriate amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition. due to the opposing effects of the omega-6 and omega-3 families, an optimal balance is important to achieve both homeostasis and normal development. A ratio of 3:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 has been recommended as an "optimum functional ratio". 

Impairment of Delta 6 Desaturase (D6D) enzyme:
        In addition to the above mentioned imbalance, another concern is that of inefficient D6D enzyme activity. In humans D6D is the initial and rate limiting enzyme in both the omega-6 and omega-3 metabolic pathways. Although adequate intakes of both LA and ALA may occur, the body may be unable to utilize these fatty acids due to this impairment. D6D activity may be impaired genetically, or by factors such as: 

High dietary intake of Linoleic Acid
Alcohol consumption
Aging
High dietary trans-fatty acid intake
High dietary cholesterol intake.
Disease conditions (ie. diabetes).
Low levels of enzyme co-factors.

        Due to the possible impairment of the D6D enzyme, it is necessary that an adequate amount of the "conditionally essential" omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, that bypass this limiting D6D enzyme, are consumed. Specifically, GLA, EPA and DHA should be consumed in addition to the "essential fatty acids" LA and ALA.
Lack of GLA in the body can cause exzema like symptoms.

Hemp Seed Oil Contains on an average:
        Unsaturated Fatty Acids totalling 89-91%
                ALA (Omega 3)                 20-25%
                LA (Omega 6)                        50-60%
                Oleic Acid (Omega 9)        9-15%
                GLA                                         3-5%
                Stearidonic                        1-2%
                EPA                                       .4%
        Also contains Vitamin E at 100-150 mg/100g plus several other vitamins, minerals and 9 essential amino acids.

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