Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Essential Nutrients for Health


Polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs are a class of fatty acids that play an important role in human health and wellness. They are considered essential fatty acids as our body cannot produce them and we need to obtain them from our diet. There are two main types of PUFAs – omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are essential to maintain health but current diets tend to be deficient or imbalanced in these fatty acids.

Types of PUFAs

There are two main types of polyunsaturated fatty acids:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The major dietary omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in plant oils like flaxseed, soybean and canola oils. EPA and DHA are found abundantly in fatty fish and seafood.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Linoleic acid is the major dietary omega-6 fatty acid and is found in vegetable oils like soybean, corn and sunflower oils. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is another omega-6 fatty acid found in some plant oils like borage and evening primrose oils.

Health Benefits of PUFAs

Cardiovascular Health – Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids help reduce triglyceride levels and inflammation in the body, which decreases the risk of heart disease. adequate omega-3 fatty acids intake is linked to reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Brain & Eye Health – DHA is a major structural component of the brain and retina. Diets rich in DHA are associated with better brain and eye development in infants as well as reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects – Omega-3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. High omega-3 intake through diet and supplements can help reduce inflammation related conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Mood and Mental Well-Being – Emerging research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce risk of depression and promote better mental health across all age groups. They may also help reduce ADHD symptoms in children.

Dietary Sources of PUFAs

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring), seaweed, calf liver.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids – Soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, sesame oils. Poultry, nuts and seeds also contain small amounts.

Most populations derive omega-6 fatty acids effortlessly through diet but have low omega-3 intake. On average, current diets have ω-6/ω-3 ratio of over 10:1 which is higher than recommended. Achieving the right balance between these fatty acids is important for health.

Balancing PUFA Intake

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is speculated to be between 1:1 to 4:1. Most health experts recommend:
– Eating fatty fish twice a week for EPA/DHA.
– Use flaxseeds/chia seeds daily for ALA.
– Limit intake of vegetable oils higher in omega-6.

Supplements can be considered to meet recommended amounts if dietary sources are limited. Pregnant and nursing women should aim for at least 200mg of DHA per day. Overall dietary focus should be on increasing omega-3s while moderating omega-6s for optimal polyunsaturated fatty acid balance.

Importance of Balanced PUFA Intake

An imbalanced high omega-6/omega-3 ratio promotes the pathogenesis of many chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Increased dietary omega-3 improves the dysregulated lipid mediators, eicosanoids, and cytokine profiles associated with these conditions. Overall omega-3 helps improve membrane function, cell signaling and gene transcription. Their anti-inflammatory effects counter the pro-inflammatory effects of excess omega-6 intake; thereby bringing nutrient equilibrium. Maintaining a balanced ratio of these essential fatty acids is thus critical for overall health, wellness and disease prevention.

PUFAs especially omega-3s are essential nutrients required in micro-amounts but have huge implications for health. With current diets lacking in omega-3s and high in pro-inflammatory omega-6s, it is imperative to strive for recommended PUFA intake through diet, supplements if needed and maintaining a balanced ratio between the two. Doing so can significantly reduce inflammation and risk of many lifestyle-related diseases. Overall, achieving optimal fatty acid balance should be an important nutrition strategy as part of any healthy lifestyle.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it