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Vitamin F: What it is, and why we need it
March 29, 2021

 

Vitamin F is not a traditional vitamin but a term for two essential fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. People need to consume these essential fatty acids as part of their diet to stay healthy.

Fatty acids play many important roles in the body, contributing to the regulation of bodily processes, the prevention of disease, and more.

In this article, we discuss vitamin F in more detail, including its potential health benefits and symptoms of deficiency. We also list dietary sources of this vitamin and look at whether skin products containing it are beneficial.

What is vitamin F?

Vitamin F is not a traditional vitamin but a term for two fats: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA).

ALA and LA are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs). ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid, and LA is an omega-6 fatty acid.

Scientists coined the term vitamin F in the 1920sTrusted Source to describe ALA and LA. The scientific community has since disregarded the term, but people may still notice skin care companies referring to vitamin F in their product marketing.

Benefits of fatty acids

People need a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to be healthy. According to a 2018 reviewTrusted Source, a diet favoring omega-6 is pro-inflammatory and contributes to atherosclerosis, obesity, and diabetes.

According to the same review and another 2014 reviewTrusted Source, fatty acids play the following roles in human health:

  • maintaining the structure, flexibility, and fluidity of cell membranes
  • producing and storing energy
  • ensuring normal growth and function of the brain and retina
  • regulating inflammatory processes
  • influencing neurotransmitter synthesis and signaling
  • preventing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and rheumatoid arthritis

The body can convert ALA into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.

However, research suggests that this conversion, which happens mainly in the liver, only occurs at a rate below 15%. Fish make this conversion in their bodies, so eating fish may be a more reliable way to get the benefits of EPA and DHA.

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Deficiency of ALA and LA

A 2019 reviewTrusted Source indicates that, in the United States, there are no dietary reference intakes (DRIs) for ALA or LA due to inadequate information. Instead, experts set an adequate intake (AI) based on the highest median intake among adults in the U.S., where a deficiency is usually nonexistent.

The review authors suggest that people who eat a vegan diet may need higher ALA amounts to avoid deficiency. They may also need to decrease LA to achieve a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. The researchers suggest a maximum ratio of 4:1 for omega-6 to omega-3.

Doctors do not routinely test essential fatty acid status, and a person could have insufficient intake but no symptoms. However, some people will experience symptoms.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute, clinical signs of essential fatty acid deficiency include:

  • a dry, scaly rash
  • decreased growth in children and infants
  • increased susceptibility to infection
  • poor wound healing
  • cognitive impairment

Sources of ALA and LA

LA and ALA are essential nutrients, and people need to consume them as part of their diet. The Linus Pauling Institute note that the following foods are good sources:

Food sources of ALA

People looking to increase their intake of ALA can incorporate more of the following into their diet:

  • flaxseed and flaxseed oil
  • chia seeds
  • walnuts and walnut oil
  • canola oil
  • soybean oil
  • mustard oil
  • firm tofu

Food sources of LA

The following foods contribute to LA intake:

  • safflower oil
  • sunflower seeds
  • pine nuts
  • sunflower oil
  • corn oil
  • soybean oil
  • pecan nuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • sesame oil

Topical application

People can also use essential fatty acids topically on the skin. Research suggests that applying olive oil or sunflower seed oil to the skin may reduce symptoms of scaliness.

Additionally, other researchTrusted Source indicates that applying ALA to the skin may help prevent wrinkles from developing. A 2011 review also suggests that LA may be a powerful anti-aging agent for the skin.

Summary

Vitamin F is a term for two essential fatty acids: ALA and LA. People need to consume these nutrients to stay healthy and avoid the risk of chronic diseases.

Certain plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, and oils, are good sources of ALA and LA. People can also apply the fatty acids topically to the skin, which may benefit rough and dry skin and improve signs of aging.

People who eat a vegan diet should take care to consume the correct ratio of LA to ALA. Signs of deficiency can include dry skin and poor wound healing, although symptoms may not always be apparent.

 

 

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