Certain types of fats are essential to human life. “Essential” means we cannot make these special fats on our own, and in their absence, disease and ultimately death will follow. One of the first telltale signs of the lack of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is right on the skin. Lack of EFAs will manifest with dry, rough, and scaly skin.
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Unsaturated fats were originally referred to as vitamin F to signify fat. In 1936, researchers showed that topical application of these EFAs could ameliorate the skin manifestations of dietary EFA deficiency. Following this, the U.S. Patent Office was filled with applications for a host of vitamin F-based skin creams, soaps, and other products.
Others, including Hugh Sinclair, MD, and colleagues at the University of Oxford, were showing that oral supplementation with EFAs could quickly reverse a deficiency and cleat up skin problems. One particular area of interest was the EFA anti-aging potential in human skin. Sinclair reported in 1957 that an EFA deficiency worsened the skin-damaging influence of UV radiation and caused fragmentation of collagen, loss of dermal tissue, and reduced blood flow to the skin. In his landmark skin-nutrition review, published in the Annales de la nutrition et de I’alimentation (1957), this Oxford vice president lambasted the profession of dermatology for turning its back on the nutrition potential, refening to dermatology as a “backward branch of medicine.” While other medical disciplines were starting to get into the trenches to truly investigate the relationship between diet and chronic diseases, dermatology was quickly tossing out all references to the lowly diet factor. But now dermatology is once again looking into the connection between nutrition and glowing skin.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Today North Americans’ intake of omega-6 outnumbers omega-3 intake by a ratio as high as 20 to 1. This is an unacceptable ratio, one far removed from the ideal ratio of 2 to 1 (omega-6 to omega-3). There has been a massive decrease in the intake of omega-3 essential fatty acids over the past hundred years and a coincidental increase in the consumption of omega-6-rich vegetable oils (soybean, safflower, sunflower, and com). Therefore, today we are faced not so much with an EFA deficiency, but rather with a specific omega-3 EFA deficiency.
While most of the foods we eat have omega-6 fatty acids, we need omega-3s for our skin because they provide insulation against UV damage and collagen destruction. Animals that are allowed to graze, to hunt and peck, or to forage have access to the naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids in grasses, insects, and other natural sources. Try replacing some of your meats and eggs with free-range meats and omega-3 enriched eggs. You can also get your omega-3 supply from fish, seafood, nuts (especially walnuts), canola oil, flaxseeds, hemp, dark-green leafy vegetables, and even blueberries.