Categorized | Diet

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Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Skin Health

Though omega-6 fatty acids are not discussed as often as omega-3 fatty acids, these misunderstood essential fatty acids are critical components in everything from proper cell development and metabolic regulation to reproduction health and the maintenance of healthy skin and hair. While there are numerous health concerns that can develop from a lack of essential fatty acids in one’s diet, skin disorders are often the first to appear and, of course, the most readily apparent. Low intake of essential fatty acids, including omega-6 fatty acids, has been linked to a higher risk of skin infections such as dermatitis and eczema, as well as lowered overall immunity to ward all types of skin conditions. Additionally, mothers who lack essential fatty acids during pregnancy can sometimes pass the risk of infection and certain skin disorders onto their infants.

Recent research suggests that linoleic acid (LA), the mother compound of omega-6 fatty acids, may be beneficial in treating psoriasis, acne and other skin conditions. One study in particular found that flax seed oil, high in both LA and omega-6 fatty acids, is especially helpful in treating eczema. Additionally, another form of omega-6 fatty acid, gamma-lineolic acid (GLA), has been shown to offer positive results for those suffering with eczema. While GLA is converted within the body to arachidonic acid (AA) – a compound that has been linked to inflammation – it is almost always converted further into dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid (DGLA) which is capable of counteracting any inflammatory effects. A healthy intake of vitamins – especially magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin C – can help GLA convert fully into DGLA.

Scientists have recently discovered that eczema sufferers lack the enzyme responsible for converting LA into GLA, preventing such individuals from developing the omega-6 fatty acids capable of regulating and soothing the condition. LA is easy to get through food, as it is prevalent in many vegetable oils, but GLA is difficult to obtain through dietary sources. Rarely present in traditional foods, GLA is found most commonly in borage seed oil, black currant oil and evening primrose oil. One unique double-blind study on children suffering from eczema involved putting borage seed oil on the inside of undershirts for two weeks. The results were remarkably positive, as symptoms were greatly reduced for most participants. Similar effects have also been achieved by people of all ages – suffering not only from eczema, but an array of skin conditions – after adding borage seed oil or essential fatty acid supplements containing the oil to an already healthy diet.

Though Americans tend to get plenty of omega-6 fatty acids in their diets, not everyone focuses on obtaining it from healthy sources such as raw nuts and seeds, unsaturated vegetable oils and legumes. Most people are also unaware of how a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in a healthy diet can help improve overall skin health, in addition to having positive effects on conditions as wide-ranging as depression and heart disease. One of the easiest ways to reap the benefits of all the essential fatty acids, from improved skin health to healthier heart function, is to add a balanced supplement containing omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.

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