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Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances: Fat

Essential fatty acids, sometimes referred to as vitamin F, are two polyunsaturated fats that humans have to obtain through their diet.  The balance of these fats in the diet can increase or decrease the strength of the inflammatory response.  People dealing with diseases that have a strong inflammatory component (eg. acne, chronic prostatitis, rheumatoid arthrtitis, and asthma) experience more severe symptoms when they consume a diet high in the pro-inflammatory essential fatty acids.

This is because of a group of fatty acid derivatives called eicosinoids.  Eicosinoids are short-lived, hormone-like chemicals that our body makes from essential fatty acids in response to noxious stimuli (eg. trauma, infection, or irritants). These chemicals are responsible for the redness, pain, swelling and heat associated with inflammation.  Since these signals are made on demand, eicosanoids are made from the essential fatty acids that are stored in the body.   Interestingly, the specific eicosinoid that is made depends on which of the two essential fatty acids are used and not on what the stimuli is.

The first essential fatty acid is linoleic acid.  This omega-6 fatty acid is abundant in safflower, sunflower and corn oils.  Animals convert linoleic acid into another fat called arachidonic acid.  Arachidonic acid, also an omega-6 fatty acid, is then converted to a group of pro-inflammatory eicosinoids that cause inflammatory reactions such as blood vessel constriction, immune activation, muscular contraction and fever.

Alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, is the other essential fatty acid in the diet.  The highest concentrations of alpha-linolenic acid in food are found in chia and flax seeds. Walnut, hemp, canola and soybean oils all have some amount of alpha-linolenic acid.  Just as with linoleic acid, animals convert alpha-linolenic acid into a different omega-3 fat for storage: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) . EPA is considered the active ingredient in fish oil supplements.  The eicosanoids produced from omega-3 fatty acids are generally considered anti-inflammatory.


Fatty Acids


Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acid

Alpha-linolenic acid

Linoleic Acid


Flax, Chia, Walnut, Hemp, Canola, Soybean

Safflower, Sunflower, Corn

Animal Form

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Arachidonic acid


Salmon, Cod, Mackerel, Anchovies

Grain-fed Beef and Dairy, Pork

Because these fats are stored in the cells of animals, they have the ability to travel up the food chain.  Animals that have a diet high in linoleic acid, such as animals raised on corn, will have higher amounts of arachidonic acid, compared to animals that have a diet high in alpha-linolenic acid.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health.  However, for people who experience chronic inflammation reducing their intake of omega-6 fatty acids, while increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids has proven to be a useful way of reducing symptoms.

Shifting towards the digestive tract, fat intolerance is the generic term for difficulty digesting any dietary fats.  The gallbladder and the pancreas are responsible for mixing and breaking the fats we eat, while the small intestine is responsible for absorbing the digested fats.  If any of these organs are not working properly, the end result is undigested fats entering the colon.  Fats in the colon are broken down by colonic bacteria, which causes foul smelling, explosive diarrhea.  People with a fat intolerance will generally report that greasy food will fairly quickly elicit a trip to the bathroom.  Avoiding fatty and greasy foods is one way to manage a fat intolerance.  To address the underlying problem, the gallbladder, pancreas or small intestine dysfunction, a person should consult with a licensed healthcare provider.

Read more: Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances – Proteins

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