As we continue our Cell Membrane Series, we will be discussions the building blocks of the fat in our bodies – Fatty acids. Fatty acids are necessary for cell growth and preservation, providing energy and forming important components of cell membranes.

Fatty acids are the building blocks of the fat in our bodies and in the food we eat. 

Fatty acids are long-chain hydrocarbons that can be separated into the following categories:

  1. saturated
  2. mono-unsaturated
  3. polyunsaturated
  4. trans fats

1) Saturated Fats 

A type of fat in which the fatty acid chains have all or predominantly single bonds between carbon molecules. The chain of carbon atoms are saturated with hydrogen atoms in these fatty acids makes these fats solid at room temperature. Examples include butter, lard, cream, cheese. 

2) Trans Fats

Trans fat are a form of unsaturated fat. While it can be naturally found in some meat and dairy, there is also Artificial Trans Fat. Artificial trans fat is created during hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable to make them solid at room temperature and more stable. Many studies have correlated trans fat to increased heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends reducing trans fat from your diet.

3) Monounsaturated Fats 

monounsaturated fats are simply fat molecules have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond, meaning two fewer hydrogen atoms than saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. Oils that contain monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature. Examples include: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil. 

4) Polyunsaturated Fats 

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are fatty acids that contain two or more double bonds in its carbon chain. The two types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which refers to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond. Examples of Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods from plants like soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed. Examples of Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Omega 6 fats, when over consumed can be inflammatory to the body so having a balanced ratio between both and avoiding overconsumption of Omega 6 Fatty Acids is optimal. 

How do Fatty Acids work? 

During digestion, the body breaks down fat into fatty acids, this is so that it can then be absorbed into the blood. Fatty acid molecules are then connected together in groups of three, forming a molecule known as Triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat that are the most common type of fat found in your body. They come from foods, such as butters and oils but and also from other fats you eat.

Importance of Fatty Acids to Cell Membrane

Fatty acids have many important functions in the body, stored as triglycerides in an organism, are an important source of energy. If glucose isn’t readily available for energy, the body then uses fatty acids to fuel the cells instead.

If we recall from our earlier Cell Membrane blogs, cell membranes are primarily composed of lipids, specifically phospholipids and a few cholesterol molecules. Phospholipids are the lipids which have phosphate in their molecular structure. It is an important component of cell membrane. It is made up of two hydrophobic fatty acid tails and a hydrophilic head consisting of a phosphate group. The two constituents are joined by a glycerol molecule. Phospholipids are what support the cell membranes unique structure due to their hydrophobic (non-polar) tails and hydrophilic heads (polar). This means that heads of the molecules face outward and are attracted to water whereas the tails face inside away from the water allowing them to arrange themselves in a sphere form in aqueous solutions. 

Fatty acids are part of the lipid class, widespread in food and organisms, being an critical component of the membrane cell. They have important biological functions, structural and functional roles, and stored as triglycerides in an organism, are an important source of energy.

This blog highlights the importance of fatty acids in human health, both regarding on the physiology of human body, especially omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids become common ground to these pathologies. In the upcoming blog we will discuss how these fatty acids play a role in cardiovascular, neurologic, endocrinological, and other diseases due to their mechanisms at a cellular level.

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