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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 7 of 11

A saturated fatty acid (SAFA) can transform itself into becoming unsaturated by removing two of its hydrogen atoms and replacing them with one or more bonds either in a cis or trans arrangement. This capability is of great significance when assembling n-3 and n-6. The process of placing double bonds into an omega chain requires specific catalytic enzymes that humans do not make and require that they come from food. N-3 and n-6 are considered essential fatty acids due to their unique role within the cells. Trans structures are rare in nature. Rather, they are manufactured artificially as partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated unsaturated acids. They do not, however, respond in the body the same way as nature-derived unsaturated fatty acids.

Saturated fatty acids—saturated with hydrogen atoms 4–28 carbon atoms long:

  • Butyric acid—a bioactive fatty acid component of milk fat found in butter, yogurt and cheese. Lactic acid in dairy products produce free fatty acids including butyric acid and linoleic acid by the lipolysis (breakdown of milk fats). Probiotic activity creates more free fatty acids, which in turn creates more beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Caproic acid—a fatty acid found in animal fats and oils;
  • Capryllic acid—small amounts are found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil and the milk of various mammals. Due to its short-chained length, capryllic acid is found to be antimicrobial and effective in combating certain lipid-coating bacteria;
  • Hexadecanoic acid—found in palm oil, tallow, butter, cheese, milk and meat. It’s the most common SaFa found in animals, plants and microorganisms;
  • Lauric acid—found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil and breast milk;
  • Myristic acid—found in cows milk;
  • Octadecanoic acid;
  • Palmitic acid (PA);
  • Stearic acid (SFA); and
  • Arachis acid—found in peanut and corn oils, and used in detergents and lubricants.

Cell membranes

All cell membranes are called bilayer membranes and are comprised of special lipid molecules called phospholipids (PLs), cholesterol, glycolipids and glycoproteins, and other extrinsic protein molecules. The presence of EFAs is fundamental to cell function and regulation and must be obtained from exogenous (external) sources. They affect membrane properties that support flexibility, fluidity and permeability, and play a vital role in cell-to-cell signaling. EFAs n-6 and n-3 generate powerful modulatory factors and must be in balanced ratios in order to be affective.

Built of saturated and monosaturated fatty acids, PLs are a main component of the selective bi-polar plasma membrane surrounding the cell. One part of the bi-lipid structure is water-loving (attracts water) and the other is lipid-loving (repels water).


  • Hold membrane proteins in place to accomplish structural, enzymatic and transport functions;
  • Keep the membrane fluid enabling protein molecules to move freely about the surface of the membrane in order carry out important functions such as cell signaling;
  • Store a supply of EFAs required for creating cell-regulating prostaglandins;
  • Serve as a protective mechanism for discouraging fungus, viruses and other foreign interlopers due to the stores of the EFA molecules that attract oxygen (required for metabolic synthesis);
  • Contain cholesterol that fine tunes membrane fluidity during the changes in food and fat intake. Cholesterol modulates with the phospholipid molecules; and
  • Contain vitamin E, carotene and glutathione that protect them from oxidation.

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