Essential fatty acid deficiency, one of the major health concerns in the world today, can be attributed to several factors, including changing lifestyle patterns and obesophobia. The inclusion of even small amounts of essential fatty acids (EFAs), such as the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, in our diet can help in preventing this condition. Not many people are aware of the importance of including these fatty acids in our daily diet though, and that's where the problem begins.

Essential Fatty Acids

EFAs are the fatty acids required by our body, but cannot be produced within, and hence, have to be compulsorily included in our daily diet. As their name suggests, these are necessary for various biological processes. In fact, they are extraordinary metabolism boosters and hence, constitute an important part of our diet. One of the most important fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acid has several health benefits. It helps in lowering the blood pressure and stimulating blood circulation. Omega-6 fatty acid, also referred to as linoleic acid, plays a vital role in the functioning of the brain and regulating body metabolism. Foods rich in EFAs include fish, flax seed, soy oil, canola oil, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, etc.

Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency

Causes: The most important cause of EFA deficiency in people today is the increased adulteration of the polyunsaturated oils during refinement. The deficiency can also be attributed to the change in people's dietary habits. Modern-day cooking methods have completely wiped off all the vital sources of EFAs from our kitchen. To add to the woes, unnatural fats and oils in the form of trans fats and hydrogenated oils have become an important component of our diet; courtesy, the rising trend of depending on fast food.

Symptoms: Deficiency of any essential component of the body reflects in the form of some prominent changes in the appearance or functioning of the body. Given below are some commonly observed symptoms of this condition.
  • Cramps during menstrual periods
  • Craving for fatty foods
  • Dry and brittle hair
  • Dry and oily skin
  • Dry mouth, throat, and eyes
  • Dull and splitting fingernails
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive waxing of ears
  • Feeling of being tired and fatigued
  • Formation of dandruff
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Inadequate lubrication of vagina
  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Premenstrual pain in breasts
  • Skin cracking and fingertips peeling
  • Skin losing the luster or becoming dull
  • Skin of feet and face becoming dry and scaly
  • Slow growth of fingernails
  • Small bumps occurring on the arms
  • Stiff and/or painful joints
  • Thickening of calluses
With time these problems tend to get complicated to a great extent. Though rare, there are significant chances of the person suffering from a heart attack as well. Doctors, who lack training in nutrition, find it difficult to detect this health condition, and that, in turn, delays its treatment and makes the patient vulnerable to several serious ailments and long-term diseases, such as heart problems, cancer, and arthritis. As its symptoms are very broad and vague, there are high chances of the deficiency being misdiagnosed.

Various essential fatty acid supplements, like sunflower seeds, walnuts, leafy vegetables, fish, etc., are effective in treatment of this condition. Researches have revealed that olive or soybean oil emulsions also help in its treatment. The best measure though, is to prevent the deficiency from occurring in the very first place, which can be done by including sufficient amount of EFAs in your daily diet.