Omega-3: Controlling Inflammation:
Omega-3 is probably the most important of the “must take” supplements but it can’t be just any old off-the-shelf fish oil. It must be a pharmaceutical grade, molecularly distilled product.
It is also a very delicate substance and should be kept out of sunlight and away from heat. Ideally, it should be kept in the refrigerator. Its importance is that it is a critical component for dealing with out-of-control inflammation.
Omega-3 is an essential polyunsaturated fatty acid which means our bodies don’t make it; we have to get it from food or supplementation.
The name “omega-3” comes from the construction of the fatty acid of which it is a part. Very briefly, a fatty acid is a chain of carbon atoms with an acid group at one end and a methyl group at the other end.
Let’s not get hung up on methyl groups or acid groups; they are just various combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms or nitrogen and hydrogen atoms respectively.
The carbon atoms in the chain can be connected by single or double bonds; that just means that certain elements are connected by two electrons for the single bond and four electrons for the double bond. The double bond is an unsaturated fat casually referred to as the good fat.
If the first double bond occurs three carbon atoms from the methyl group end, it is an omega-3 fatty acid. If the double bond occurs 6 carbon atoms from the methyl end, it is an omega-6 fatty acid and so on.
Inflammatory disease and autoimmune disease are closely related but they will be treated here as if they are totally different. That is because of the natural health approach to treating each other is different.
Inflammatory disease is a fatty acid issue in which the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids becomes very imbalanced.
Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks its host body due to an inability to distinguish invading organisms from the body’s own cells, commonly referred to as “self cells”.
It is a breakdown in intercellular signaling or cell-to-cell communication.
Autoimmune diseases and their cause and natural treatment are covered in the essential sugars and glyconutrient discussion.
Inflammation is one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms; characterized by redness, swelling, pain, and heat.
It is the second of three lines of defense against infection, invasion or injury; the first being the physical barrier of the skin and internal epithelial cells, the second is the inflammatory response and the third is the immune response.
Inflammatory Response and Arachidonic Acid
The inflammatory response is non-specific, meaning that it will always react the same, no matter what the threat and it has no memory such as is found in the immune response.
Problems occur when we consume too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. There is a series of enzymatic steps that transform the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids into arachidonic acid (AA).
Arachidonic acid is what creates two major chemical messengers in the inflammatory response; prostaglandins and leukotrienes. There are others but these two are the trouble makers.
Prostaglandins are messengers that cause the blood vessels in the area of infection or trauma to swell so that it is easier for white blood cells to go where they are needed.
Leukotrienes are chemical messengers that direct the white cells where to go. So if we have too much AA, then we have too many inflammation chemical messengers with the result that they start screaming “Fire” in the theater when there is no fire.
While there may be an infection or injury that initiates the attack, with too many messengers giving the alarm, the response becomes overly intense and goes on too long. In the extreme, surrounding tissue is damaged.
The excess of chemical messengers summons more macrophages, neutrophils, lymphocytes and other immune system components to the extent that real damage is done and the inflammation response becomes the disease.
Common inflammatory diseases are asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, gout, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease.
It also includes their associated diseases of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease. That’s just the shortlist.
In all inflammatory diseases, the condition can manifest itself as redness, swelling, dolor, and sensation of heat. Other symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, chills or joint stiffness may be present.
Inflammation is thought to be a component of many diseases although not proven to be a cause. In this category, we find atherosclerosis, diabetes, chronic kidney failure, hepatitis, pancreatitis, osteoarthritis, bronchitis, and emphysema.
It is significant that none other than the Department of Health and Human Services, in their discontinued HHS HealthBeat series, confirmed that both higher and lower doses of omega-3 helped reduce inflammation (Aug 2012). It follows then that fish oil, krill oil or oily fish itself could be a mitigating factor in the diseases linked to inflammation.
Control of Inflammatory Disease
Control of inflammatory diseases is best accomplished through dietary changes and supplementation with a pharmaceutical grade, molecularly distilled, cold-pressed omega-3.
Per the discussion given above on the inflammatory response, it is vital to limit the amount of arachidonic acid consumed.
This means that inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids must be reduced in that they are the major building blocks of the inflammatory messengers; prostaglandins and leukotrienes.
The best guidance available is from two sources; the book Inflammation Nation by Floyd H. Chilton, Ph.D., Simon & Schuster, New York, 2005.
The second is Dr. Barry Sears of The Zone fame who has his book The Anti-Inflammation Zone, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005.
It all boils down to learning which foods to eat and which to avoid and how to supplement smartly for good anti-inflammatory results.
In a nutshell, avoid all organ meats, farmed fish (especially farmed salmon) and turkey. Limit eggs, processed meats (meats that contain mixed parts from livestock) and some poultry products such as chicken wings and fried chicken.
Eat wild fish but be alert for heavy metal poisoning. If you eat a lot of wild fish, take a good anti-oxidant and detox supplement regularly.
Most milk and dairy are not inflammatory agents except for egg yolks but in moderation, the benefits of organic pastured eggs outweigh any risk of inflammation.
As far as supplementation, know what the terms GLA and EPA mean. GLA is gamma-linoleic acid and is an omega-6 fatty acid. EPA is eicosapentaenoic acid and is an omega-3 fatty acid. Through a series of conversions, GLA is transformed into another fatty acid, DGLA (dihomogammalinoleic acid).
DGLA and EPA work together to squelch inflammation by blocking the production of inflammation messengers from arachidonic acid (AA) and cytokines, another category of inflammatory messengers. In order for everything to work normally, there has to be a balance between the fatty acids; a 1:1 ratio between the omega-3 and omega-6.
For smart supplementation of these fatty acids, GLA should not be supplemented at all without having an adequate intake of EPA, either through food such as certain wild fish or supplementation. According to Dr. Chilton, GLA can carry potentially “dangerous side effects if taken without EPA”.