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The Causes of EFA Deficiencies

Certain groups of people have inherited a need for more EFA’s and especially GLA (gamma linolenic acid) in their diet. These include individuals of Irish, Scottish, Welch, Scandinavian, Danish, British Columbian, and Eskimo decent. Most Americans can trace their ancestry to one or more of these groups.

There have been dramatic changes in our agricultural, food processing and food preparation methods in the last several decades. These changes have helped deplete the soil and our foods of valuable nutrients. These changes have created an epidemic of essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiencies in most Americans. Changes in flour milling technology have resulted in oil rancidity and the elimination of essential fatty acids from most machine processed grains. The excessive consumption of trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats in place of healthy EFA’s. 

One hundred years ago our ancestors used real butter, unprocessed grains, flax seed oil (a rich source of EFA's), and raised free-range cattle and chickens. Today's farmer (in most cases, huge conglomerates like Tyson) keeps cattle and chickens caged until their death. They are fed inferior processed grains that are devoid of EFA's. These farm animals are nutritiously less efficient to human consumers. Free range cattle, chicken, and dairy products can have over five times the amount of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in their tissues as compared to modern, industrialized raised animals. Highly processed foods are not only devoid of life giving, health building EFA's, but prevent EFA's from being absorbed and effectively utilized.  Alcohol and caffeine also block conversion of EFA’s to anti-inflammatory prostaglandin hormones. Increased ingestion of toxins in our food, water, and air depletes our EFA’s. The lack of breast feeding creates EFA deficiencies. Omega-3 fats and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) are not present in infant formulas or commercial cow’s milk. Excessive consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids (too many grains) may interfere with the absorption of Omega-3 fats. The excessive consumption of trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats interfere with essential fatty acid utilization. 

Poor dietary habits including over consumption of refined sugars, caffeine, and over the counter drugs, combined with processed foods, have helped create EFA deficiencies.

Most FMS patients have been on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) drugs for years. These medications , which include aspirin, Naprosyn, Vioxx, Advil, Tylenol, Motrin, etc., block the  prostaglandins ( hormones) that cause inflammation as well as those that stop inflammation. NSAIDs block prostaglandin 2, the inflammation causing hormone, but they also block prostaglandin 1 and 3 which helps reduce inflammation. One way to reduce inflammation is to increase EFA, especially Omega-3 consumption.


Prostaglandins are made from essential fatty acids. These bio-chemicals are similar to hormones. Prostaglandins affect almost every bodily function. They can stimulate or relax uterine muscles, reduce swollen nasal passageways, help regulate the happy hormones, and are intimately involved in the immune system.  They help regulate the blood pressure, as well as helping to regulate air passageways, blood vessels, and fat metabolism.  They can help stimulate steroid production; help reduce appetite, and can cause or reduce inflammation.  They are involved in regulating allergic reactions.  A deficiency in EFA’s can contribute to a number of health problems, such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, depression, PMS, Sjogren's Syndrome (dry eyes and mouth), cancer, arthritis, heart disease, attention deficit disorder, and asthma are just a few of the illnesses associated with EFA deficiency.  If you are pregnant, make sure you take EFA supplements.  Intelligence and mental acuity in children have been linked to proper EFA intake while in the womb.  Diaper rash, eczema and cradle cap are all associated with a deficiency in EFA’s.


One of the causes of allergies is leaky cell membranes or intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome).  Omega-3 fatty acids and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) help normalize allergic and inflammatory reactions. Anti-inflammatory prostaglandin hormones (PGE1 and PGE2) are derived from Omega-6 fatty acids in the gastrointestinal tract. A deficiency in these hormones reduces mucous secretions, increases gastric acid and causes an excessive amount of inflammatory histamine to be released.  Primrose oil (GLA) and flax seed oil taken with meals often brings about marked improvements in food allergies as well as allergies in general. 


Another widespread illness related to Omega-3 deficiency in the consumption of toxic process oils is Candida.  One of the main causes of the development of Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract it’s a breakdown in the integrity of the tissues lining the stomach and intestinal walls.  This is known as leaky gut or intestinal permeability.  This has several detrimental affects.  It enables poisons from the digestive tract and Candida secretions to penetrate through the lining and the blood stream.  These poisons will then circulate throughout the body causing everything from allergies to depression and a susceptibility to Staph infections. infections.  In a normal healthy person, the Candida and other fungus or yeasts are kept in check by the good healthy bacteria.  When a person’s flora is altered either through the use of antibiotics or other medications or long-term stress or when they become severely malnourished and deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids and other vital nutrients, the normally benign yeast changes into an aggressive form and from starvation attacks the walls of the digestive tract in the search for nutrients.  Malnutrition only causes illness by nutrient deficiencies and also has a profound, but not generally known, effect.  It creates a weakened organism making it susceptible to many forms of a latent bacteria, parasites, yeasts, and viruses, which assault and devour the host.  This is why low protein-low fat diets, and even low calorie diets, are so unhealthy.  They set up a situation where the person becomes malnourished.  They’re not able to get enough amino acids from protein, and enough fat quintessential fatty acids to bring about the needed nutritional change to create a healthy environment.  Essential fatty acids are the major constituents of all cellular membranes in the body.  Maintaining the integrity of these membranes helps prevent infection by yeast, viruses, bacteria, and parasites. 

 Essential Fatty Acids, CFS and Immunity

A major cause of breakdown in the immune system is an overall weakening in the cellular membrane integrity.  The membranes of healthy cells have the ability to discriminate between what they allow in and what they keep out.  In other words, they can resist entry by viruses and other pathenogenic agents and at the same facilitate the entry of nutrients.  This cellular membrane capacity to recognize what is beneficial and to keep out what is not beneficial is vital for the immune system. Our bodies including our skin, digestive tract, mouth, sinuses, lungs, and throat are covered with trillions of bacteria, virus, parasites, and yeasts. Our cellular walls are composed of essential fats, cholesterol and amino acids.  Omega-3 fats regulate and normalize the proper functioning of cholesterol and Omega-6 fatty acids. 

Fatigue and Immune Function

Omega-3s are an essential element of many immune system processes. Why do some people get sick and others don’t when exposed to the same virus. For instance, in the case of Epstein-Barr, a good 90% of the U.S. population carries this virus, yet only a fraction will develop the illness.  Recent research has shown that the body’s natural virus killer, Interferon, is partially responsible.  Interferon is a chemical our immune system produces to kill viruses.  There’s now important evidence showing that the essential Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, and their prostaglandin derivatives, play a crucial role in the body’s production and its utilization of the hormone Interferon. Interferon plays an important role regulating the immune system. *Studies have shown that people with a viral illness have below normal levels of essential fatty acids and their derivatives.  *

*In a Scottish trial, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were given EFA supplements with great success.  Placebo controlled trials were held for 70 patients with persistent CFS giving them linolenic acid (flax seed oil) and eicosapentaenoic acid (fish oil).  After 6 months, 84% of the patients in the group receiving EFA supplements, and only 22% of those in the placebo group rated themselves as better or much better. 

*In another successful study, 63 adults with CFS were enrolled in a double blind placebo controlled study with essential fatty acid therapy.  The patient’s were ill for an average of 1-3 years after a viral infection. They all suffered from severe fatigue, myalgia (muscle pain), and a variety of psychological symptoms.  After one month, 74% of the patients taking EFA supplements, and 23% of those on placebo, assessed themselves as improved.

*This research is cited in Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Disease.  In, 1) Peter O. Behan, and Wilhelmina M.H. Behan, Essential Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome Omega-6 Fatty Acids Pathophysiology Involves in Clinical Medicine (Alan R. Liss, Inc.; 1990); 275-282.  2) P.O. Behan, W.M.H. Behan, M.D. Horrobin, Effective High Doses of Essential Fatty Acids in the Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome, Acta Neurol Scand 82 (1990); 209-216.  3) Lowell L. Williams, et. al., Serum Fatty Acid Proportions are Altered During the Year Following Acute Epstein-Barr Virus Infection.  Lipids, Vol. 23, No. 10 (1988).  4) D.F. Horrobin Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome, Viral Infections, and Atopic Eczema and Essential Fatty Acids.  Medical Hypotheses 32 (1990); 211-217.

From the book “The Facts About Fats,” John Finnegan.

There are several interesting interrelationships between EFA metabolism and viral infections.  EFA’s have direct antiviral effects and are lethal at surprising low concentrations to many viruses. The antiviral activity of human mother’s milk seems to be largely attributable to its EFA content. 

Interferon is dependant on EFA’s and in their absence will be compromised.

Viral infections lower the blood levels EFA’s.  This has been confirmed in the case of the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV).  Of particular interest was the observation that at 8 and 12 months, those who have recovered from EBV showed normal or near normal EFA blood levels.  In contrast, those who were still clinically ill from Epstein-Barr show persistently low EFA levels. 


A deficiency of Omega-3 fat is the main cause of depression and other mental disorders.  Omega-3 fats work to keep us mentally and emotionally strong in three ways:  1) Omega-3 fats act as precursors for the body’s production of preprostaglandins and neurotransmitters (specific hormones).  2) Omega-3 fats provide the substrate for B vitamins and coenzymes to produce compounds that regulate many vital functions, including neurotransmitters. 3) Omega-3 fats provide energy and nourishment to our nerve and brain cells.


One of the best uses for flax seed oil and GLA is in the treatment of eczema.  A malfunction of essential fatty acid metabolism has been solidly established to be a major, if not the major, cause of eczema.  Many people report substantial improvement when following a nutritional program which includes: 1) eliminating refined or processed oils, excess saturated fats, and hydrogenated fats; 2) using flax seed oil and sometimes GLA in the form of primrose oil.

Trans-Fatty Acids

Refined oils

Refined oils undergo deodorization, bleaching and hydrogenation processes.  These processes remove lecithin, Beta-Carotene, essential fatty acids, and the anti-oxidant Vitamin E.  Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen atoms to polyunsaturated oils for the purpose of creating solid saturated fats like margarine.  Natural oils are heated under pressure for six to eight hours at 248-410 degrees F and reacted with hydrogen gas by using a metal, like nickel or copper.  Both of these heavy metals are linked to mental depression and fatigue.

Natural Oils

Natural oils are derived from pressing seeds and nuts.  These include sunflower, cotton, corn, olive, canola, and almond oils.  These oils are primarily polyunsaturated, Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acid-containing oils.  Unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds between carbon atoms in their chain.  These naturally occurring CIS, or double bonds, allow these non-animal fats to remain liquid at room temperature.  These naturally unsaturated, CIS-containing fats are poisoned by heating them up and hydrogenating the double CIS bond into the man-made trans-fatty acid.  Trans-fatty acids prevent the Omega 6 essential fatty acids from attaching to their receptors on cell membranes.  This makes the membranes, which regulate what goes into and out of a cell, impermeable.  Because nutrients can’t get in and toxins can’t get out, the membranes begin to die.

Trans-fatty acids from refined oils increase the LDL or bad cholesterol. They also decrease the good HDL cholesterol. The American public has been misled into believing that vegetable oils are good for them.  The American Heart Association, who unbelievably advocates the use of margarine, has promoted this.  Margarine is made up of 15 to 50 percent Trans-fatty acids.  Processed vegetable oils devoid of healthy essential fatty acids and are primarily toxic trans-fatty acids in a bottle.

Trans-fatty acids are now being linked to cancer and free radical proliferation.  By blocking the essential fatty acids Omega 3's and 6's from adhering to the cell membranes, other illnesses start to manifest themselves, such as arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, PMS, depression, fatigue, FMS and CFS.