What can lead to a deficiency of essential fatty acids?

, medical expert
Last reviewed: 19.10.2021

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Deficiency of essential fatty acids (EFA) is rare, most often in infants, whose nutrition is deficient in EFA. Symptoms include flaky dermatitis, alopecia, thrombocytopenia and growth retardation in children. The diagnosis is established clinically. Replenishment of EFA from food completely eliminates the deficit.

Linoleic and linolenic acids - EFA - substrates for the endogenous synthesis of other fatty acids, which are necessary to provide many physiological processes, including maintaining the integrity of the skin and cell membranes, the synthesis of prostaglandins and leukotrienes. For example, eicosapentaenoic and decosahexaenoic acids, synthesized from EFA, are essential components of the brain and retina.

To develop a deficiency of EFA, their consumption with food should be very low. The use of even small amounts of EFA can prevent the development of their deficiency. Cow's milk contains about 25% linoleic acid from human milk, but when cow's milk is used in normal amounts, the intake of linoleic acid is sufficient to prevent a deficiency of EFA. Total fat intake in many developing countries can be very low, but since this fat is often vegetable, with a high content of linoleic and linolenic acids, the intake of vegetable fats is sufficient to prevent the deficiency of EFA.

In infants who were fed with milk formulas, with a formula depleted of linoleic acid (milk formula based on "skimmed" milk), the development of a deficit of EFA is possible. Deficiency of EFA can also be a consequence of prolonged PPT, if it did not include lipids. But now most solutions for PPT include fat emulsions in order to prevent deficiency of EFA. In patients with lipid malabsorption syndrome or increased metabolic needs (for example, in surgical interventions, multiple injuries, burns), a diagnosis can be made based on the results of laboratory data on EHF deficiency in the absence of clinical manifestations. Dermatitis due to deficiency of EFA, generalized and scaly; in infants, he can recall congenital ichthyosis, increases skin dehydration.

The diagnosis is usually clinical; However, laboratory tests confirming the deficit of EFA are now available in large research centers.

Treatment consists in the mandatory receipt of EHF with food, which completely replenishes their deficiency.

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