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GLA (Gamma-linolenic acid)

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is in the omega-6 family. It is made by the polyunsaturated fat Linoleic acid (LA) which is an essential fatty acid. Essential fatty acids are considered "essential" because the human body requires them for many chemical processes but cannot produce them on its own. There are two essential fatty acids that humans must receive from an outside source:

  1. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid
  2. Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid.

ALA breaks down into the two popular omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA, and LA breaks down into two major omega-6 fatty acids:

  1. Gamma-linolenic acid - GLA
  2. Arachidonic acid - AA

GLA has powerful anti-inflammatory properties whereas both LA and AA are actually considered "pro-inflammatory." For this reason, low GLA levels combined with elevated LA or AA levels are associated with higher risk of disease due to inflammation. Inflammation caused by elevated LA or AA can affect the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, and even hormone balance.

GLA can become "essential" when levels are extremely low in the body. Reduced GLA levels might occur when there are insufficient sources of GLA-promoting foods in the diet or if the body is not properly synthesizing GLA. In fact, many people do not produce the enzyme required to convert LA to GLA and will have persistently low GLA levels unless they are supplementing through their diet.

It is important that omega-6 fatty acids are converted to the GLA form because of the pro-inflammatory effects of LA and AA. American diets are very rich in omega-6 vegetable oils, such as corn, canola, and soybean oil. Unfortunately, these omega-6 oils will result in elevated AA levels rather than promoting healthy GLA levels. For this reason, strategically supplementing with GLA-rich omega-6 oils is paramount for optimizing health and countering more pro-inflammatory forms of omega-6's that may be in the bloodstream. Evening primrose oil is one of the most popular sources of GLA, but borage oil actually contains some of the highest GLA levels of any known plant. Black currant seed oil is another a good source of GLA.

GLA tends to be known for its effects on balancing symptoms of inflammation related to skin concerns and menopausal disorders, but GLA supplementation should be considered in anyone interested in reducing inflammation and particularly for those who lack the enzymatic ability to convert LA to GLA.