Posted on Nov 20, 2019, 2 p.m.
In the traditional sense of the word vitamin F really isn’t a vitamin, rather it is a term for two fats: linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid which are both essential for regular body function including aspects of brain and heart health, and they may offer several unique health benefits.
ALA belongs to the omega-3 fat family, while LA belongs to the omega-6 family, common sources of both include vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Both were discovered in the 1920s when fat free diets were found to have adverse effects on rats, initially this was suspected to be a deficiency in a new vitamin which at the time was called vitamin F, this was later found to be linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
Linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are the 2 types of fat that comprise vitamin F and they are essential fatty acids that are necessary for health which the body is not able to make and must be obtained from diet. They play key roles as a calorie source, providing cell structure, aiding in growth and development, helping to make signaling compounds, and they are converted into other fats the body needs to maintain optimal health. Deficiency is rare, but lack can lead to symptoms including dry skin, hair loss, slow wound healing, poor growth in children, skin sores and scabs, as well as brain and vision problems.
Alpha-linolenic acid is converted into other beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, together ALA, EPA, and DHA offer a variety of health benefits including reducing inflammation, improving heart health, supporting mental health, and assisting growth and development.
Linoleic acid is also converted into other fats in the body and it offers many health benefits when consumed in moderation, especially when used to replace less healthy saturated fats. Benefits include: helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, and improving blood sugar control.
Maintaining a healthy ratio of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid in your diet may be the key to optimizing the benefits from vitamin F due to the opposing signals these fats send; LA tends to induce inflammation, while ALA works to inhibit inflammation. An ideal ratio has yet to be determined but the most common recommendation is a ratio at or below 4:1.
The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in Western diets is suggested to be as high as 20:1 which may contribute to inflammation and increased risk of heart disease. Rather than adhering to a ratio it may be easier to follow recommendations from the Institute of Medicine which suggest that adults consume 1.1-1.6 grams of ALA and 11-16 grams of LA daily. If you eat enough of the proper foods, supplements are not necessary. Most food sources contain both ALA and LA, but some may have higher proportions of one fat than the other.
Common food sources of LA include: olive oil at 10 grams per tablespoon, sunflower seeds at 11 grams per ounce, pecans at 6 grams per ounce, and almonds at 3.5 grams per ounce. Foods high in LA that also contain ALA include flaxseed oil at 7 grams per tablespoon, flax seeds at 6.5 grams per ounce, chia seeds at 5 grams per ounce, hemp seeds at 3 grams per ounce, and walnuts at 2.5 grams per ounce.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.