Inflammation is one of the body’s necessary evils. When properly balanced, inflammatory responses protect us from harm. However, when the scales tip, disease is just around the corner.
Our diet greatly affects our state of inflammation and one way of mitigating any dire consequences is through the daily consumption of Omega-3, a healing and anti-inflammatory Essential Fatty Acid.
There are two Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), Omega-3 and Omega-6. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). PUFAs are found in liquid form (safflower, sunflower, corn and fish oils); do not solidify in cold climates; are highly unstable once extracted from their source; and, their health benefits do not survive the heating process. In fact, the heating of PUFAs creates the most dangerous type of fat, trans fats.
Consumption of trans fats can cause countless inflammatory diseases: arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer (1).
“Vegetable oils are great, in vegetables, where they’re protected, but when you pull these PUFAs out of vegetables, now they’re sensitive to light, to heat, they oxidize, even during their processing. And, then they go into [your body] and cause inflammation of the cells.” (2)
Through consumption of deep sea oily fish, or cold water fish oil supplements, we benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of Omega-3s, while the overconsumption of Omega 6, in the form of vegetable oils, or trans fats, can lead to inflammation through their overproduction of substances found in human cells called Series 2 Prostaglandins (PG2).
The inflammatory link between Omega-6s and disease is rarely discussed outside of medical journals. Likewise for the links discovered between PG2 (overproduction and Cancer) (3).
Prostaglandins (found as PG1, PG2, and PG3) are rapid, ‘spark-like’ substances found in the cells of most living creatures. Prostaglandins only last a fraction of a second, but can have dramatic positive, or negative effects on the body. They are catalysts for a number of bodily functions such as regulating blood pressure, aiding in digestion, hormone balancing, fertility and growth (4).
The key is to produce the right balance of prostaglandins by consuming the right balance of omega-6s vs. omega-3s.
“As important as Prostaglandins are, the body has no reliable mechanism for keeping them in balance – it depends mostly on [what we’re eating].” (5)
The routes EFAs take in our bodies as they’re metabolized and utilized by our cells are referred to, scientifically, as ‘pathways’. The first pathway, produced by Omega 6s, leads to the creation of Series 1 and Series 2 Prostaglandins.
Like inflammation, PG2 is required, but in small, balanced amounts. It’s produced in the body from the unsaturated fatty acids found in butter, animal fats, organ meats, egg yolks and seaweed. Series 1 Prostaglandins (PG1) are mainly comprised of vegetarian Omega 6s, such as seeds, vegetables and their derived oils.
“The type of fat that we eat has a direct impact on what type of prostaglandins the body will produce and how much it produces of each type.” (6)
Along the second pathway, PG3 is created by Omega-3 fatty acids. PG3 is known as highly protective and when the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio is in balance, PG1 and PG3 appear to support the positive effects of PG2 without allowing it’s potential negative assault on the body’s cells(7).
“Prostaglandins exert a profound influence over the adhesive, migratory, and invasive behavior of cells during the development and progression of cancer.”(8)
Research focused on the relationship between PG1 and PG2 reveals PG2’s involvement in swelling, inflammation and clotting while PG1 has the opposite effect. However, the protective mechanisms of PG2 cannot be denied. The swelling of an injury forces immobilization and rest, and as a result, healing.
Inflammation is one of the body’s most appropriate responses to injury and while its benefits are significant, balance must be maintained in order to avoid overstimulation. This balance is in the hands of our diet, directly impacted by our choice of foods, or rather, fatty acids.
Meanwhile, adequate PG3 production appears to protect and work to balance an excess of PG2 (9). Clearly, a balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 equates a healthy balance of PG1, 2 & 3.
So, what is this sweet spot of balance? How do we avoid tipping the scales of inflammation towards PG2 overproduction?
According to Udo Erasmus, an expert on fatty acids, our highly inflammatory ‘Standard American Diet’, (SAD) comprised of refined sugars, flours, and excess PUFAs comprises an Omega-6 to 3 ratio of approximately 20:1. While an ideal ratio for adequate anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory protection is at least 4:1, if not lower, such at 2:1.(10)
Also affecting our balance of Prostaglandin production are deficiencies in the B, C, and E vitamins, and in the minerals Zinc and Magnesium. These nutrients can mainly be found in leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts and pasture raised animal foods.
“Healthy human beings make the prostaglandins they need from EFAs, but nutritional and metabolic conditions can block the ability to convert EFAs into PGs.”(11)
A diet avoiding omega-6 laden trans fats and hydrogenated oils, but including lots of fresh vegetables, coconut and olive oils, and high quality animal products creates a healthy balance of PG1 and PG2. With the addition of deep-sea oily fish, fish oil supplements and the occasional organ meats, an even more solid balance can be attained through a healthy amount of PG3 in the cells (12).
Balancing the scales to prostaglandin production may appear like walking a tight rope; however, with balanced nutrition, Essential Fatty Acid and Prostaglandin equilibrium is easily met.
Example of an Omega fatty acid balanced dinner plate:
200gm piece of wild salmon, dollop of homemade olive oil and egg yolk mayo
400gm salad of diced cucumber, onion, red pepper, avocado & rocket
200gm steamed broccoli w/ raw pastured raised butter and sea kelp mineral salt
2 Dr Pompa, Eating Fat to Loose Fat (24 April 2015, Podcast)
5 CSNN Student handbook
6 CSNN Handbook
10 Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Udo Erasmus
11 Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, Udo Erasmus