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Essential Fatty Acid

A number of disease processes can be significantly influences by Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) status.  Conditions such as inflammatory disorders, cardiovascular disease, hormonal disorders, auto-immune disorders, mental and behavioural disorders, and many cases of neurological degeneration can all be influences by inadequate levels of certain essential fatty acids.  

EFAs convert to vital hormones called Eicosanoids that regulate all the stages of inflammation, controlled initiation, propagation, and termination.  This process is paramount in helping the body to repair and protect itself immunologically.  EFA also plays a pivotal role in the structure and function of cell membranes.

Patient imbalances and deficiencies of EFA are largely due to absence of these nutrients in the modern diet.  Ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 fats have changed considerably due to the widespread use of vegetable oils in processed foods and in cooking.  Omega-3 fatty acids tend to be anti-inflammatory in nature and help to reduce oxidative stress.  Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory in nature and help to induce inflammation in immune responses. 

Historical estimates place the ratio of n-6 to n-3 oils at around 1:1 for prehistoric humans.  Unfortunately by the 20th century, this ratio had increased to 4:1.  Current day estimates place the ratio at 20:1 for modern day western consumers.  This sharp rise being due to an elevation in the use of vegetable oils both commercially and in the home.  This increase has been associated with the rise in various inflammatory conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and othe autoimmune conditions.


EFA Taxonomy

The two most common ways of categorizing fatty acids are:
1) type of saturation (monosaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats)
2) families of fats based on physical structure (omega 9, omega 6 and omega 3 etc.)

Biochemically fats that are in a certain category behave in a similar way within the body as do fats with the same degree of saturation.  Some examples of this can be that most saturated fats raise serum cholesterol levels; polyunsaturated fats are very susceptible to oxidative damage, omega 3 fats increase fluidity of cell membranes and increase permeability.

Click here to see a list of the EFAs that are tested and their association with dietary sources.


Clinical Applications

The clinical applications of essential fatty acid analysis is large and varied.  There are a number of clinical conditions where EFA are critical to the treatment of pathology.  These include disorders associated with cell receptor and cell membrane dysfunction.  Problems with cell receptors and membranes are correlated with mental disorders and neurological disease, faetal abnormalities and problems with pregnancy and lactation.  EFA are also pivotal in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions, which include disorders such as cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, auto-immune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory skin conditions (psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis).


Specimen Collection

A blood specimen is taken after an overnight fast


Specimens Tested

The practitioner has the option of testing the patient for either Plasma or Red Cell when assessing EFA.  Plasma samples look at short term EFA status.  This covers the duration of approximately 3 days and is useful in assessing short term supplementation.  Red cell samples look at long term EFA status which covers a minimum of 120 days.  It can be useful in assessing whether deficiencies and altered status could be effecting chronic illness.

Plasma (short term assessment of EFA status)

Red Cell (long term assessment of EFA status)


Patient Preparation

Patients must fast from 10pm the evening before the blood specimen is taken (water may be consumed during this time).


Turnaround Time

Test results are usually available within 10-14 working days.


Test Results

Patient results are delivered via electronic download unless requested otherwise. Results can also be issued via hardcopy, fax or web based e-viewer.


Technical Support

All Australian Clinical Labs Functional Pathology tests are accompanied by an Interpretive Guide to assist practitioners in their clinical understanding and patient management for each result. Australian Clinical Labs Functional Pathology also has experienced full time Technical Advisors available for practitioners to discuss appropriate test selection, interpretation of test results, individual cases and other technical matters. Please call 1300 55 44 80 between the hours of 9:00am and 5:00pm  AEST or email csfp@AustralianClinicalLabs.com.au