Gamma-linolenic acid

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are necessary for human health, but the body cannot 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, and 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). You can get GLA from several plant-based oils, including evening primrose oil (EPO), 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 while some omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation. The typical American diet contains 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. Many physicians blame this high rate of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for the large number of inflammatory diseases in the American population.

Not all omega-6 fatty acids behave the same. Linoleic acid and arachidonic acid (AA) tend to promote inflammation. GLA, on the other hand, may actually reduce inflammation. Some studies even suggest that GLA protects DNA.

The body converts much of the GLA taken as a supplement 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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Review Date: 6/22/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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