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Demystifying the oils

Demystifying the oils

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Which oil for what? Naturopath Tracy Wolf sorts the fish from the flaxseed.

Q. How do oils contribute to our health and wellbeing?

A. Oils constitute a huge subject area and include monounsaturated (olive & avocado oil) and polyunsaturated (walnut, sunflower, soya bean) oils which we tend to use when cooking. Oils are important sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Benefits of essential fatty acids:

  • shorten our recovery time after exercise
  • growth enhancing
  • promotes smooth skin
  • speeds healing
  • enhances immune functions
  • reduces inflammation, pain and swelling (for conditions like arthritis)
  • reduces platelet stickiness, blood pressure and premenstrual symptoms


EFAs belong to two main families, known as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Foods providing omega-6 fatty acids include evening primrose oil, sunflower and safflower oils, borage oil, blackcurrant, canola, egg yolk, dark green leafy vegetables, seeds and whole grains. Omega-3 fatty acids come from deep sea fish, linseed oil, dark green leaves, nuts especially walnuts and egg yolks.

The EFAs are tagged ‘essential' because our body cannot survive without them and they must be consumed in our diet. The body cannot make essential fatty acids of its own accord.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have multiple roles in the body, one of the most important being a structural role in our cell membranes. Every cell in the body is enclosed by a thin lipid membrane which keeps the contents safe and contained. This membrane's components include essential fatty acids. 

 Q. How do the major oils differ from each other in their applications/uses?

A. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids and has beneficial effects on blood pressure, triglyceride levels, kidney function, inflammatory response and immune function. It keeps our platelets from getting too sticky (this reduces the likeliness of clots that can cause a stroke or heart attack). It also has an artery protecting effect and reduces inflammation of blood vessels and inflammation around joints.

Evening primrose oil contains omega-6 fatty acids and helps with hormonal regulation. Its balancing effect means it helps out with PMT, dry skin, pimples, eczema and moodiness.

Cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamins A and D and has traditionally been used for asthma, respiratory conditions, immunity and bone development. It's often given to children to help prevent rickets and to encourage the development of a healthy immune system, as well as to protect mucous membranes of the body.

Q. Which oils are suitable for dry skin and why?

Deficiency symptoms include:


  • eczema like skin eruptions
  • loss of hair
  • behavioural disturbances and learning problems
  • susceptibility to infections (long term – immune dysfunction)
  • poor wound healing
  • arthritis-like conditions
  • low metabolic rate
  • heart and circulatory problems

A. (EPO) is my first choice for eczema, dermatitis and cradle cap (topically). When the skin condition has an inflammatory component which is also linked to the hormonal cycle (menstruation or puberty) then EPO works well.

Q. Which oils are best for brain health and why?

A. The best oils for brain heath contain a high amount of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). EPA and DHA are normal constituents of our cells with DHA abundant in brain cells. They are also found in the retina, adrenal glands, nerve transmitters (synapses) and sex glands. The best dietary sources of EPA and DHA are cold-water fish.

There has been a tremendous amount of research on DHA levels and learning ability in children. I always recommend fish oils for memory, mood enhancement and cognitive function. Children with development problems such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism respond very well to fish oil supplementation. If there is an underlying hormonal imbalance or skin condition like eczema, then I add EPO, too.

Q. Under what circumstances should someone take an oil supplement daily?

A. To be honest everyone would benefit from taking some form of essential fatty acid: children need extra oils for their immunity, learning ability and skin conditions; adults for their mood, pain management or joints; and during pregnancy, menopause and menstruation, women will benefit from taking a variety of high quality oils.

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interesting reading and food for thought
I currently use your Flaxseed Oil to help relieve a fairly serious lower back injury (3 herniated discs impinging on nerve roots, spondolytis and arthritis) and have found it very good but was wondering if there would be any benefit, or harm, in also taking a fish oil supplement?
Anonymous 10 Feb 2014