Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid that is found mostly in plant based oils such as borrage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and black currant seed oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: They are necessary for human health, but the body can’t make them -- you have to get them through food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. Also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), they help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system.
There are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet come from vegetable oils in the form of linoleic acid (LA). The body converts linoleic acid to GLA and then to arachidonic acid (AA). GLA can be gotten from several plant based oils including evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil. Most of these oils also contain some linoleic acid.
A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical American diet tends to contain 14 - 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Many nationally oriented physicians blame this high rate of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for the preponderance of inflammatory diseases in society.
Not all omega-6 fatty acids behave the same. Linoleic acid and arachidonic acid (AA) tend to be unhealthy because they promote inflammation. GLA, on the other hand, may actually reduce inflammation.
Much of the GLA taken as a supplement is converted to a substance called DGLA that fights inflammation. Having enough of certain nutrients in the body (including magnesium, zinc, and vitamins C, B3, and B6) helps promote the conversion of GLA to DGLA.
Many experts find the science supporting the use of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and prevent diseases to be much stronger than that supporting GLA.
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