Fatty acids

Medical Specialties: Cardiology, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology

Clinical Definition

Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms with an acid group at the end. They combine to form lipids, such as triglycerides. The number of bonds between fatty acids dictates whether the resulting compound is saturated or unsaturated. 

In Our Own Words

Fatty acids are one of the building blocks of fats. They are manufactured by the body and are also considered a macronutrient. The human body cannot create some types of fatty acids, called essential fatty acids, good fats, or EFAs, and these need to come from the diet for optimal health. Both linoleic acid (omega-6’s) and linolenic acid (omega-3’s) are EFAs. Saturated fats often come from animal fat while trans fats are found especially in partially hydrogenated food items; both are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Relevant Conditions
Common Types
  • Saturated fatty acids
  • Unsaturated fatty acids
Share this article
  • Marieb E, Ph.D., and Hoehn K, Ph.D. Human Anatomy & Physiology. 8th ed. Benjamin Cummings 2010; pages 45–47 and 912–914. Accessed July 2013.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Fatty acids.” http://www.britannica.com. Accessed July 2013.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” http://umm.edu. Accessed July 2013.
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