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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.

page 6 of 11

Fats are classified as:

  • Saturated fatty acids(SAFA)—straight chains with no double bonds;
  • Unsaturated essential n-3 fatty acids—contain three double bonds;
  • Polyunsaturated (PUFA) essential n-6 fatty acids—contain two or more double bonds; and Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) n-9—contain one double bond.

Fats are either solid (saturated—no double bonds) or liquid (unsaturated—one or more double bonds). All naturally occurring oils and fats are actually mixtures of different amounts of various fatty acids. For example: Beef fat is 54% unsaturated, lard is 60% unsaturated and chicken fat is about 70% unsaturated.5 This results in them being less than half saturated.

Fatty acid chains

Fatty acids are organic molecules consisting predominantly in a straight chain arrangement containing single bonds of carbon and hydrogen atoms (hydrocarbons). Described as “holding hands,” carbon and hydrogen atoms link together by sharing electrons. Its chain is inflexible noting a straight, solid backbone of carbon atoms with a saturation of hydrogen atoms. The more saturated the molecule, the higher the melting point. Fatty acid structures have a methyl group that is hydrophobic (repels water) at one end joined by ester bonds and then capped with a hydrophilic (attracts water) carboxylic acid (COOH) group at the other end.

Building a fatty acid molecule. Fatty acid chains can contain any number of carbon atoms classified as short-chained, as found in butter, versus long-chained, as found in fish oils. The uniqueness of a fatty acid molecule is that it has an innate feature that allows it to modify itself into a new molecular structure for a particular biological purpose. An example would be its ability to build or reinforce a cell membrane, regulate a cellular event such an immune response, or be stored as energy for future use.

Fatty acid chains vary in size:

  • Short chains include less than 6 carbon atoms;
  • Medium chains include 6–12 carbon atoms; and
  • Long chained fatty acids contain 24 or more carbon atoms.

Saturated and non-saturated fatty acids