Fatty Acid Composition: What Constitutes a Fat Molecule

Essential fatty acids, DHA, and omega-3 provide numerous health benefits. Fatty acid composition is complex, yet important for proper brain function, energy, digestion, and joint lubrication. With so many important health benefits, it is easy to understand why these fatty acids are considered “essential.” Understanding fatty acid composition is a little more complicated.

Understanding Fatty Acid Composition

Fats consist of a varied group of compounds that are either solid or liquid at room temperature and insoluble in water. Oils are the fats that remain as liquids at room temperature while fats remain as solids at room temperature. Lipids include both liquid and solid fats.

The fatty acid composition of lipid molecules can be broken down in your body by enzymes that are produced in your pancreas.

There are various types of fats and triglyceride molecules. Each type is a variation on the same chemical structure. All fats consist of fatty acids bonded to a glycerol or other backbone structure.

The properties of specific fat molecules vary for different fatty acids, which are comprised of varying numbers of carbon and hydrogen atoms.

Fatty acids differ in the number of hydrogen atoms that are bonded to its chain of carbon atoms. Typically in saturated fatty acids, each carbon atom is bonded to two hydrogen atoms.

In unsaturated fatty acids, a carbon atom may bond to only one other hydrogen atom, with a double bond to a neighboring carbon atom.

The main difference between saturated fats and unsaturated fats are their energy content and melting points. Unsaturated fats yield less energy during metabolism than saturated fats.

Fatty Acid Deficiency

If you have achy joints, or if your hair, fingernails, and toenails are dry and brittle, you might have a deficiency in essential fatty acids. Other signs that you might have a deficiency are:

  • irregular bowel movements
  • constipation
  • gas
  • bloating 
  • high blood pressure

If you have any of these symptoms, it is recommended that you check with your doctor about a potential deficiency in essential fatty acids or other causes.

Importance of DHA

Docosahexaenoic acid, also known as DHA, is an omega-3 essential fatty acid that may reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing the level of blood triglycerides. Also, because DHA is the most abundant essential fatty acid in your brain, low levels of DHA can result in reduced brain serotonin levels, which can be linked to depression, ADHD, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.


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