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Exclusive Online Expanded Version—The Essential in Fats: A Global Perspective for Healthy Skin Cells

By: Alexandra J. Zani
Posted: March 5, 2014, from the March 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are biological compounds that are required for the health of all cells. EFAs must be initially obtained from food sources, because the human body cannot manufacture them.1 Their importance is significant due to their contributions to the biological activities of every cell membrane; the skin barrier; brain activity and cognitive function; the central nervous system; mediation of inflammatory responses; and overall body health.

EFA deficiencies (EFAD) are linked to numerous illnesses and conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, behavioral disorders, cardiovascular risk factors, cornification disorders, poor skin barrier function, psoriasis and dermatitis.2 A primary focus for the skin care professional involves understanding the principal concepts encompassing the optimum function of biological cells and their relationship to successful outcomes of skin correction. Of paramount importance is the consideration of the histological nuances of the cell, especially within the epidermal/dermal regions and the functional relationship of essential fatty acids to cell membranes.

During the past two decades, further advancements with more precise laboratory instrumentation avail scientists the opportunity to provide a more detailed interpretation of how the skin functions, including cell-to-cell signaling, barrier role and function, mitochondrial activity, membrane electrical potential and function, immune response and suppression, and wound-healing. Included in this amalgam are factors that may affect this normal mode of functioning—including genetic, lifestyle, nutrition and environment. The good news is that this current information unlocks a new passageway for the skin care professional to explore the “whys” of a skin condition. Moreover, it elucidates to the stressors that lead to the dysfunction of biological components within the skin layers. This knowledge is paramount to shifting into newer paradigms that contribute to optimum skin correction and maintenance.

Visiting ancestry

The 2004 scientific exploration of a 1.95 million year-old site in northwestern Kenya unearthed clues that the diet of earlier human inhabitants consisted of aquatic animals such as fish, turtles and alligators, as well as other meat sources. Humans lived along freshwater lakes and marshy areas in eastern Africa that safely allowed them to increase dietary protein and fats from smaller animal species without having to rely on hunting dangerous, large animals. They also foraged local uncultivated plants, fruits and nuts, and drank water to quench their thirst. The regions where early populations resided were fundamental to their growth, health and propagation. Inhabitants in the East African Rift Valley and at the southern cape of Africa also had access to ample seafood, a rich source of omega-3 (n-3) and omega-6 (n-6) EFAs. It was discovered they developed a greater brain size and higher intellect.

Exploring the life of earlier humans elucidates scientific clues regarding the importance of dietary intake and its relevance for growth and keeping free of disease. Fats are substantial dietary molecules necessary for storing energy and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), as well as for building and regulating structural mechanisms in all cells. Fat requirements for each population group varied regionally and were reflected by the amount of energy levels necessary for survival. Moreover, their digestive systems adapted to foods available in their local region and synthesized nutrients from what they ate. For example, Inuit Eskimos living in the far north consumed diets high in meat, including fish, marine mammals and local wildlife, with very little vegetables and fiber. All life requires a certain amount of light each day to regulate the circadian rhythm, which helps trigger biological activities for all living beings. A prime example to exemplify human’s capability for adaptation was remarkably displayed during days of polar winter darkness. The Inuit people received a large amount of stored sunlight from the chemical bonds they stowed within their bodies obtained from their diet of fatty fish.