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What Is Arachidonic Acid?

Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 unsaturated fatty acid your body requires to function properly. The National Institutes of Health reports that this fatty acid can be made in the body if you consume adequate amounts of linoleic acid in your diet. Though your body requires arachidonic acid, getting too much of this essential nutrient could be problematic.

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Why It's Needed

Arachidonic acid is essential for your brain, liver, and organs, according to the National institutes of Health. A study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Cell Physiology reports that arachidonic acid appears to help increase muscle mass, and a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that arachidonic acid supplementation, when combined with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), helps improve social interaction in people with autism spectrum disorders.

How Your Body Makes It

If you're getting plenty of linoleic acid in your diet, your body can make arachidonic acid. First, linoleic acid, abundant in vegetable oils, is broken down into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is then converted to arachidonic acid, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The University of Maryland Medical Center also notes that GLA is also found in evening primrose oil, black current seed oil, and borage oil.

Food Sources of Arachidonic Acid

While your body can make arachidonic acid from linoleic acid and GLA, you can also get it by eating foods that are rich in arachidonic acid -- or taking arachidonic acid supplements. Meat, eggs, and some fish contain arachidonic acid, notes the American Heart Association. Chicken is also a source or this essential fatty acid, notes the National Cancer Institute.

Potential Health Concerns

Getting too much arachidonic acid in your diet could be problematic. The University of Maryland Medical Center and the American Heart Association both say that arachidonic acid promotes inflammation, which can increase your risk for heart disease. However, if you're getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids -- abundant in coldwater fish, flax seeds, soybeans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil, and other plant-based oils -- exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, and sodium in your diet your heart-disease risks should stay low.

How Much Should I Eat?

There is no recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for arachidonic acid. However, the Institute of Medicine established an adequate intake level for linoleic acid, which is converted to arachidonic acid in your body, of 11 to 12 grams daily for women and 14 to 17 grams per day for men, depending on age. Linoleic acid is found in seeds, nuts, and plant-based oils like corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower and canola oils, notes Harvard School of Public Health.

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An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.

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