Essential Fatty Acids
You can’t get away from the media and health magazines talking about the health benefits of essential fatty acids (EFA). For today’s post I’d like to focus-in onto two specific EFA’s known as alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid and how they can affect the various lipoprotein-cholesterol levels in the blood. These fatty acids are both found in various nuts, seeds and oils of flax, hemp, walnuts, and chia. They are also found in dark, leafy green vegetables, such as kale and chard, but not in very high amounts.
As I have mentioned before, there are healthier and more effective ways to help the body regulate and maintain a healthy balance of nutrients, such as cholesterol. One of those ways is to provide the body with nutrients that help to bind to and soak up excess cholesterol that is in the form of bile. While another way is to consume phytosterols, compounds that resemble a similar structure to cholesterol, which can help prevent cholesterol in the intestines from being absorbed into the blood. These are two natural and healthy ways through which these nutrients, whether provided through diet or supplements, can help assist the body in eliminating excess cholesterol.
Flax and chia seeds not only contain EFA’s, but they also offer a good source of protein, plant sterols and soluble fiber mucilage that can help with the binding and excretion of excess cholesterol from the body. In a 1993 study that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, healthy female volunteers supplemented their diet with 50 g. of ground flaxseed per day for four weeks. Upon blood analysis it was found that alpha-linolenic acid levels increased in the plasma and erythrocytes while serum total cholesterol decreased by 9% and low density lipoprotein levels dropped by 18%.
Another possible way EFA’s may help lower serum cholesterol levels is by examining the physical characteristics of these fatty acids. In “Fats that Heal Fats that Kill, Udo Erasmus PhD. explains how these fatty acids serve to help build the outer membrane of the body’s cells. When these fatty acids are attached in the form of phospholipids and incorporated into your cells membrane, the bent shape of these fatty acids (due to their unsaturated chemical property) makes it impossible for them to be lined up in a straight, side by side fashion (the way in which saturated fatty acids are lined up). It is this EFA characteristic that allow for cell membranes to be more flexible and fluid-like, being able to expand or shrink in size and withstand stress. In order to maintain cell membrane stability, cholesterol, either from the blood or produced within the cell, is needed to be incorporated into the cell membrane along with the phospholipids. In most cells, the ratio of phospholipids to cholesterol molecules is around 1:1. This is one way how these essential fatty acids can affect the levels of cholesterol in your blood. A deficiency of these EFA’s could, in turn, lead to cells incorporating a greater level of monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids into the cell membrane instead. As a result, the cells would not need to take in near as much cholesterol from the blood as they no longer would need as much cholesterol to be deposited to in order to maintain stability.
Erasmus, U. (1993) Fats that Heal Fats that Kill (pp.13-22. 58-68) Summertown, TN: Alive Books
DerMarderosian. A & Beutler, J.A. (2001) The Review of Natural Products – Second Edition (p. 258) St. Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons
Anderson, C. S. & Cockayne, S. (2003) Clinical Chemistry: Concepts and Applications (pp. 181-190). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill