Fatty acids are a family of lipid molecules, which particularly include omega-3 and omega-6.
Structure of fatty acids
A fatty acid is a molecule formed from a carbon chain bound to hydrogen atoms (it is called a hydrocarbon in organic chemistry) ending in an acid group : COOH.
The carbon chain in plant foods rarely contains more than 18 carbon atoms. In animal foods and in our own bodies, the carbon chain can be as long as 30 carbon atoms. This « extension » is possible because of the complex metabolism within our cells.
There are three types of fatty acids:
Omega-3 and omega-6 belong to the family of fatty acids which contain a double bond on the n-3 or n-6 carbon respectively.
Role of fatty acids
Fatty acids can only be used and assimilated by the body in the presence of, and synergistically with, nutrients such as minerals, trace elements, vitamins, enzymes etc. Hence the need to correct any deficiencies found in specific investigations (by taking whole blood samples) in the everyday diet or with appropriate supplementation.
Eating saturated fatty acids is not recommended. Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of fatty acids in the diet and abnormally high levels of blood cholesterol. A high level of cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. In summary, saturated fatty acids tend to increase cholesterol and cholesterol predisposes to cardiovascular diseases.
Sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids
Linolenic acid (containing 18 carbon atoms and three double bonds) is mostly found in certain so-called virgin and first cold pressing plant oils and in eggs, meat, and wild game.
α-Linolenic acid comes from green vegetables, some aquatic vegetables (such as spirulina), sea-foods (cold sea fish oil such as salmon, halibut, mackerel etc), some vegetable oils (walnut, soya, linseed oils etc.).