Nutritionists and diet gurus have been indoctrinating us about the evils of dietary fat since the 1970s, so it’s difficult to believe that some fats are essential for life. Apparently, the term fat is far too simple for the complex substance it represents. Here’s why I believe it’s in the best interest of everyone—bodybuilders and other athletes as well as everyday folks—to consider supplementing essential fats.
There are two essential fatty acids, or EFAs, linoleic acid and linolenic acid. Linoleic acid is included in the category known as omega-6 fatty acids, while linolenic acid—specifically, alpha linolenic acid—is an omega-3 fatty acid. Another omega-6 fatty acid, gamma linoleic acid (GLA), is also important for health and athletic performance.
Like water and vitamins and certain amino acids, linoleic and alpha linolenic acids are required for life. If you don’t get them from your diet, your body will deteriorate and you’ll die.
Granted, a minimal level is required to stave off the ravages of deficiency. It hasn’t been clearly defined, however, and there is no USRDA (United States recommended daily allowance) for either essential fatty acid. In the book Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill (Alive Books, 1997), author Udo Erasmus suggests a minimum daily intake of three to six grams of linoleic acid and one to three grams of linolenic acid to prevent deficiency.
He further suggests that for optimum health people should take in 3 to 6 percent of their calories as linoleic acid and 2 percent as linolenic acid. (If you’re truly interested in fats and their effects on health, I strongly recommend this book.)
There’s a class of “hormones” called prostaglandins in the human body. Certain prostaglandins are beneficial for health and disease prevention, while others are essential to the body’s reaction to stress or injury.
Prostaglandins are derived from essential fatty acids. There are three classes, or series, of prostaglandins. The series 1 versions, particularly PGE1, have many beneficial effects for athletes. They appear to have anabolic effects, promote thermogenesis, increase sodium and water clearance by the kidneys and prevent blood clots.
Series 2 prostaglandins have the opposite effects, as they seem to trigger the release of energy substrates by breaking down structural protein, causing salt and water retention and promoting the clotting of blood. Nature always maintains a balance. In a fight-or-flight situation your body reacts to ensure your short-term survival: Your blood pressure becomes elevated, the bleeding stops and the energy the body needs becomes available.
One interesting fact is that both series 1 and series 2 prostaglandins are derived from the same precursor, linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid), while series 3 prostaglandins are derived from linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid). The series 3 prostaglandins are important not for their actions but, rather, for their ability to decrease the rate at which series 2 prostaglandins are formed.
So series 1 prostaglandins promote performance, series 2 prostaglandins disrupt performance, and series 3 prostaglandins block the formation of series 2 prostaglandins. Obviously, you’d just want to buy series 1 and series 3 prostaglandins. How wonderful if it were that easy. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Prostaglandins are not true hormones. They’re paracrine hormones or in some cases autocrine hormones, which means they’re only active in or near the cell where they’re generated. True hormones float all through the body to reach distant target organs or tissues. The downside to the local-action-only feature is that prostaglandins aren’t orally bioavailable—unless you take them in huge amounts—and can only be administered intravenously. The upside is that you can take the precursors—the essential fatty acids—and give your body the building blocks to form prostaglandins naturally and legally.
Essential fatty acids have specific chemical structures, including fragile double bonds that are easily disturbed by heat, pressure and even light. Oils that contain essential fatty acids are basically liquid fatty acids and must be protected from heat, pressure and light throughout the pressing, packaging and shipping processes.
What’s more, manufacturers must remove any extra oxygen from the processing lines and from inside the bottle, which is usually done by flushing the lines and bottle with nitrogen gas. To that end, gelcaps are less air sensitive and may have more stability.
Many of us have used flaxseed oil or evening primrose oil for fat supplementation. Flaxseed provides a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, while evening primrose is a good source of GLA. Although they’re fine for correcting a deficiency or imbalance of omega-3 or omega-6, respectively, they’re not appropriate for long-term fatty acid supplementation.
That’s a major point, and the reason is simple: Nature created a balance for a reason, and you should maintain it. Over the long term you should take in dietary fatty acids in a ratio that supports nature’s balance, and the product that will do that is hemp seed oil.
Erasmus has made the following statements regarding hemp oil: “Hemp oil is well-balanced, with omega-3 and omega-6 in a good ratio and contains gamma linolenic acid as well. Hemp seed oil can be used over the long term to maintain a healthy EFA balance without leading to either EFA deficiency or imbalance.… Hemp seed oil contains omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in an ideal long-term ratio of 3-to-1.”