Jun 01 2015

Skin and Fatty Acids

Did you know that skin diseases account for as much as 25% of the cases seen by small animal veterinarians? Skin problems typically faced by pets and their owners include:

    • itching
    • dandruff
    • blackheads
    • odor
    • crusting
    • redness
    • rashes
    • oiliness

The nutritional aspect of skin disease is a very broad topic, too broad to address in this small article. There are true nutritional deficiencies which affect the skin and other skin diseases that can be made dramatically better through the use of supplementation.

It is helpful to know that because a condition responds to a nutrient, this does not necessarily mean that a deficiency of that nutrient is present.

Everyone wants their pet to have a lustrous beautiful coat and would like to do what is nutritionally possible to ensure this. Recently essential fatty acids have received a great deal of press. A brief primer follows.

What is a Fatty Acid?

Biochemically, a fatty acid is what we colloquially refer to as fat. When we talk about different types of fatty acids we are talking about different types of fat. A fatty acid consists of a long carbon chain (say 20 or so carbons in length) with a biochemical acid group at one end.

Saturated vs. Unsaturated

Each carbon has four binding sites. In the carbon chain, two sites will be taken up by other carbons (i.e., the two adjacent carbons on the chain). In a saturated fat, the other two sites are taken up by hydrogen atoms. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature (like lard and butter) and are generally of animal origin. Saturated fats are generally burned as fuel by our bodies.

Unsaturated fats have two adjacent carbons held together by a biochemical double bond. These fats are generally liquid at room temperature and are of plant origin (olive oil, corn oil etc.).

Unsaturated fats can be classified as omega three fatty acids or omega 6 fatty acids, depending on the location of the double bond relative to the end of the chain. These types of fatty acids are essential, meaning that our bodies cannot make them; instead, in order to get them we must eat them in our diet. These fats are not burned for fuel. Instead they are used as structural components in our cells.

Wendy C. Brooks DVM, DABVP

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