Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
(find topics using search [upper left] or index [lower right]), and
more articles by Prof. Ayers on Suite101 .

Monday, August 25, 2008

Omega-3 fish oils

Omega-3 oils can only lower inflammation if you remove omega-6 vegetable oils from your diet

Wikipedia has a good explanation of fats and fatty acids. What is important here is what fatty acids are (long chains of carbon atoms with a carboxyl group on the end; the shortest is acetic acid [vinegar] that has one carbon on the chain attached to the acid group), how they are present in your diet, how they get to your cells and how your cells convert the fatty acids into inflammatory or anti-inflammatory short-range hormones, prostaglandins.

Fatty acids differ by the length of their carbon chains (always even numbers, since they are synthesized by the addition of pairs of carbons), and the number and positions of unsaturations (two bonds between the same carbon). Chemists would normally number the carbon atoms from the starting acid, but in this case the distance from the other end is what is important, so a fatty acid with a double bond between the last 3rd and 4th carbons would be call an “omega-3” fatty acid. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (20 carbons) and DHA (22 carbons). They are both present in fish oil.


Most plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, e.g. flax (ALA, 18), are much less effective in anti-inflammation, because they are too short.

Leafy plant materials have some useful omega-3 fatty acids, but seeds tend to have omega-6 fatty acids. Most vegetable oils, with the very important exception of olive oil, promote inflammation. In this context, I think that saturated fats, e.g. eggs and butter, are safer for your health than common vegetable oils, such as corn oil. The increase in degenerative and autoimmune diseases in the last fifty years can be attributed to the shift from dietary saturated fats to unsaturated vegetable oils (and trans fats). In the absence of chronic inflammation, I don’t think that saturated fats will contribute to heart disease -- deposition of fats and cholesterol at sites of inflammation is the problem.

Fatty acids are present in your diet attached to a short three carbon compound, glycerol. The glycerol with three attached fatty acids is called a triglyceride or fat. The fatty acids (also called soap) can be removed from the fats by boiling in lye = saponification. That’s the source of high glycerine soap.

You can’t digest fats without the soapy contents of bile from your pancreas. So if you swallow a couple of fish oil capsules on an empty stomach, the oil will just keep moving through your intestines. You need to take fish oil with other fat-rich foods to get the maximum benefit.

Fatty acids are removed from fats in the intestines and after transport to the liver. They are then transported out to the cells of your body and converted into phospholipids, glycerol with two fatty acids and a phosphate instead of a third fatty acid. Cell membranes are made of phospholipids and cholesterol. The phospholipids with longer fatty acid chains, e.g. DHA, EPA, form into thicker islands in the membrane. The fatty acids from these islands are removed and converted by an enzyme, COX, into the prostaglandins. Omega-3 fatty acids are converted into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins by COX and they also block the production of inflammatory prostaglandins from omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 oils are only effective in lowering inflammation if omega-6 vegetable oils are eliminated, if enough is present continuously to block conversion of omega-6 fatty acids already present, and the fish oil is consumed with other fats that trigger bile production.

Aspirin binds to COX and inactivates it so that fewer prostaglandins of either type are made. Since inflammatory prostaglandins are needed to produce healthy gut tissue, aspirin can be hard on your stomach and intestines.

Prostaglandins are very important in many natural processes. Birth for example, results from an increase in inflammatory prostaglandins and labor can be stopped with aspirin.

Stored fat is a constant source of prostaglandins. Unfortunately, the omega-6 fatty acids already present in your stored fat will be competing with the omega-3 fish oils that you consume. If you already have lots of stored fat, i.e. obesity, then you cannot afford to have vegetable oil in your diet and 6-12 fish oil capsules eaten with meals will be required to see a reduction in inflammation. Exercise will be even more important.

The simple dietary requirements for the anti-inflammatory impact of fish oil are the reason why many omega-3 trials have been inconclusive. When properly administered, omega-3 oils have been effective in the treatment of allergies, Alzheimer’s, asthma, arthritis, atherosclerosis, ADHD (just to start with the “As”). Omega-3 oils can also reduce many problems of pregnancy, such as some forms of infertility (male and female), pre-eclampsia, autism and low birth weight (short gestation).


Mrs. Ed said...

Just going through your older posts. I will have to second this! This was the first dietary intervention for our son's autism and all the adults involved in his life were amazed at the improvement, he went from moderate autism to mild. Then, three weeks into the SCD he was mild PDD. Later, looking into what our Welsh ancestors grains until 1,000 years ago and they had salmon as often as 4 times a week. It helps to dig up what ancestors ate for lunch.

Dr. Art Ayers said...

Hi Mrs. Ed,
...and they had no omega-6-rich vegetable oils in their diets. There are literally hundreds of silly studies in which the impact of omega-3 oils is tested on diseases, but dietary omega-6 oils are not controlled. The benefit is missed and the underlying chronic inflammation is also missed.

The benefit is so uniformly obvious and the lack of clinical support due to poor study design is so common that one would suspect that the investigators were trying to support the use of expensive, ineffective drugs over simple, effective diet changes.

The most consistently poor study design was in the studies involving any form of brain disfunction. Nutrition and gut function seems to be ignored in most medical environments.

Thanks for your comments.

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