Not all fats are created equal.

Not all fats are created equal.

Gamma-linolenic acid, aka GLA, is an indispensable remedy, an essential fatty acid that works quickly and safely. GLA in food or supplements can play a role in improving dozens of health conditions.

By definition, "essential" nutrients need to come from an outside source such as food. The trouble with GLA is that we don't eat enough of the foods that contain it.

Someday your doctor may ask, "When was the last time you ate pine nuts, black currants, hemp seeds or evening primrose seeds?" These are some of the prime food sources of GLA.

Scaly skin conditions respond quickly to GLA. Toddlers with atopic eczema, typified by inflammation, dryness and red blotches, improve greatly while consuming GLA. Atopic conditions often are precursors of allergies and asthma. One study showed that when kids wore undershirts coated with borage oil (a source of GLA), their conditions improved.

Shellacking your child with oil is perhaps not so tempting — all well and good — because the key to working on skin conditions is from the inside out. Eczema in adults also improves with dietary GLA intake.

Many uncomfortable and inflammatory conditions improve with the addition of GLA to the diet. It helps those with fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and menstrual cramps, and GLA is used in cancer prevention and treatment. Not only does GLA kill cancer cells, it also helps some chemotherapy work better and slows the life-threatening weight loss typical of many cancers. GLA also modulates clotting associated with cardiovascular disease, reducing stroke and heart attack risk.

Despite GLA's serious medicinal potential, it's best suited for daily preventative use. Borage and evening primrose oils are the most widely available sources of GLA, though de-hulled hempseeds are the most versatile GLA-containing food that can be added to yogurt, applesauce, smoothies, salads, cereal — even desserts.

Though GLA is safe for people of all ages, including young children, you should discuss dosage and supplementation with a health-care provider or nutritionist.

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness in Medford and the Centre for Natural Healing in Ashland. E-mail him at