Omega 3 & Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids – Getting the Balance Right

Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are one the two essential fats required for life (Omega 6 EFA’s being the other). Both are integral components of the cell membrane of every cell in the body, and the balance of these fatty acids on the cell membrane determines how the cell functions. These EFA’s naturally occur in raw animal fat, cereal grains, fruits and vegetables. However, Omega 3 EFA’s are unstable and are easily destroyed (turn rancid) by heat, light, and oxidation (contact with oxygen). As such they are easily destroyed by normal cooking and processing techniques used today, and will deteriorate more quickly in food products than will Omega 6 fats. Because of this, food manufacturers have selectively used food groups high in Omega 6 EFA’s and low in Omega 3 (cereals and oils like safflower, sunflower and olive oil have little or no Omega 3). The effect on EFA intake has been a dramatic shift from a natural dietary intake of 3-5 parts Omega 6 to 1 part omega 3, to a massive imbalance of 25-30 parts Omega 6 to 1 part Omega 3.

This has also occurred in the shift from raw food diets to cooked commercial pet foods with regard to dogs and cats. The effect of this imbalance is most dramatic on the immune system, and in the skin. In the immune system, a correct balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFA’s will direct the cells to react in a less reactive, less inflammatory pathway. However an excess of Omega 6 and deficiency of omega 3 will result in a pro inflammatory, over reactive immune system (stimulation of histamine releasing cells). This results in abnormally strong immune reactions to normal or mild allergenic stimuli; in people, Omega 3 deficiency has been linked to hay fever, asthma and allergies. In the skin itself, Omega 3 deficiency actually damages the outer layer of the skin.

The skin has a fine fatty layer that covers the skin and hair shafts and is a waterproof impermeable layer that also functions as an antibacterial layer. If this layer is deficient in Omega 3 EFA’s it loses its water proof barrier and the skin and hair becomes dry, flaky and brittle (like dandruff). The antibacterial layer is also damaged allowing bacteria to invade the skin and cause superficial infections (pyoderma/hot spots) and this in turn causes irritation to the pet. The result is a dry flaky coat with no shine and itchy skin…..sound familiar?

We endeavour to deliver the best information possible on natural health and diets for dogs and cats. Our articles involve contributions from senior veterinarians and are researched thoroughly. They remain the opinion of Vets All Natural however and we would always recommend seeking professional advice specific to your pet from a veterinarian. © Copyright 2015 Vets All Natural. All Rights Reserved.

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