WHAT ARE PARENT ESSENTIAL OILS (PEOs)? & Plant-Based Alternative to Fish Oil

You won’t be alone if you are new to the term ‘Parent Essential Oil’; this term is used to describe two absolutely essential fatty acids that the body and its cells require.  

There are only 2 absolutely essential fatty acids.  One is the parent omega-6 fatty acid, known as alpha linolenic acid (ALA).  The other is the parent omega-3 fatty acid, known as linoleic acid (LA). Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA) are truly ‘essential’ and have to be obtained from plant-based seed oils.  These parent essential oils are ‘essential’ because the body cannot make these itself and relies on food to supply these.  They are ‘parent’ oils because from these two, other omega-3 and omega-6 oils can be made by the body.

Most people have heard the expression ‘essential fatty acids’ (EFAs) and may also have heard about these being grouped into ‘omega’ families: omega-3 and omega-6. Two well-known omega-3 EFA’s are EPA and DHA. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are, in fact, essential fatty acid derivative oils in the omega-3 family whose parent essential oil (PEO) is linoleic acid (LA). Whilst the body needs derivative oils like EPA and DHA (which have important roles in human health), it can make these both (as required) from the parent essential oil.

Omega essential fatty acids can help the body function optimally, and the body requires these omega oils in balance. One reason this is important is because our body cells have membranes that consist of approximately 50% lipid by weight.  Cell membranes are composed of phospholipids, and these phospholipids have various types of fatty acids as structural components. These include polyunsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3 and omega-6), monounsaturated fatty acids (including omega-9) and saturated fatty acids (which often get bad publicity but are also important for cell membrane health). Although all these fatty acids are important for cell membrane health, there is no dietary requirement for omega-9 fatty acids or saturated fatty acids because the body can produce all it needs; omega-9 fatty acids and saturated fatty acids are, therefore, not (by definition) ‘essential’.  The body does, however, require the omega-3 parent essential oil (ALA) and the omega-6 parent essential oil (LA).

Food choices are important in this respect.  If our food choices provide too much of one omega group without a balancing amount of the other, there is a risk of imbalance, with potential negative health effect. Not only do we need a balanced intake of omega-rich foods, we also need these in unadulterated form.  The Western diet is often too high in omega-6 oils—including oils from sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean; these are often processed (to provide longer shelf-life) and heated to high temperature during use (especially problematic re fried foods) and thus adulterated and ‘non-functional’. When incorporated into our body’s cell membranes, adulterated oils can negatively impact membrane structure, flexibility and function, affecting what can get into cells (nutrients and oxygen must be able to enter cells) and what can get out of cells (toxins must be able to exit cells) through the cell membranes.

So, our body cells need PEOs to maintain healthy cell membranes.  If the cells are deficient in PEOs, cell membranes are impaired which affects the transfer of cellular oxygen implicated in many diseases.  PEOs are said to work like tiny magnets, drawing oxygen into all cells, tissues and vital organs.  Optimal functioning of cell membranes is essential to allow the exchange of nutrients and wastes to and from the cell, and thus PEOs are important for cell health. 

Receptors, for example insulin receptors, are also found in the cell membranes.  The transfer of hormones such as insulin in and out of cells is impaired if there is a deficiency of the essential fatty acids that make up the cell membranes.  This may increase the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, particularly as we age.  PEOs also help to maintain flexibility in the arteries (a common test used to determine biological ageing).  PEOs are also useful to help skin retain moisture and remain soft, smooth and velvety. So, there are several ways in which PEOs are important regarding healthy ageing.

ALA and LA are important for the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels and the omega-3 fatty acid derivatives EPA and DHA are important for normal function of the heart, with DHA contributing to normal brain function and normal vision.

Whilst flaxseed oil is a good source of omega-3 PEO (ALA), pine nuts are a good source of omega-6 PEO (LA).  Blackcurrant seed oil supplies both ALA and LA, as well as a complete and synergistically balanced form of other fatty acids.  These PEOs are the whole, unadulterated form the body needs, as they occur in nature.  From these PEOs the body can make the EPA or DHA it needs, and these fatty acids are especially important to aid body cell absorption of oxygen.

Oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, pilchards, trout and sprats) can also provide omega-3 fatty acid derivatives (EPA and DHA) and current UK government guidelines are that we should eat at least 1 portion of oily fish weekly.   Oily fish, tuna, and some white fish (including sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut and rock salmon/huss) can contain low levels of environmental pollutants so some groups of individuals should eat no more than 2 portions a week.  These groups of individuals include girls, pregnant women, breastfeeding women and women who are planning pregnancy. Note there are also guidelines re eating swordfish, shark, marlin and brown meat from crab.

Fish oil supplements that provide omega oils can also provide EPA and DHA—in varying amounts, from various fish sources, at differing potency and with factors such as quality, purity and sustainability to consider. Many fish oil supplements are susceptible to oxidation. This is where the oil reacts with oxygen and initiates an undesirable series of chemical reactions that result in rancidity of the oil.  If oxidized oils are ingested, this can be damaging to our body cells. 

Omega oils (including PEOs and fish oils) are highly oxygen sensitive and may easily be ruined by light, air or heat, so it is best to store them in a cool, dry cupboard or in the fridge once opened. 

For blackcurrant seed oil capsules, the problem of oxidation can be addressed by using a unique carbon dioxide extraction process (at low temperature) during manufacture. And blackcurrant seed oil capsules do not have the environmental pollutant issue that is a factor in fish oils.  Blackcurrant seed oil capsules can provide clean PEOs to address core cellular structure as these PEOs are fundamental to all cell membranes; ensuring cell membrane health is an important health consideration, particularly as we age.

Blackcurrant seed oil, which contains 14.5% ALA and 47.5% LA, as well as 12.6% GLA (gamma linolenic acid) and 2.7% stearidonic acid, can provide an excellent plant-based alternative to fish oil as an omega-3 fatty acid source.