Prostaglandins: Inflammatory and Non-inflammatory and Your Health
What are prostaglandins? They are hormone-like regulators that are manufactured in the body from essential fatty acids. Prostaglandins regulate thousands of different metabolic functions. Areas of metabolism and bodily function controlled by these prostaglandins include inflammation, pain, swelling, blood pressure, heart function, gastrointestinal function and secretions, kidney function and fluid balance, blood clotting and platelet aggregation, allergic response, nerve transmission and steroid production and hormone synthesis.
There are two main groups of prostaglandins. These are the inflammatory prostaglandins and the non-inflammatory prostaglandins. Series 1 and 3 prostaglandins are non-inflammatory prostaglandins. Series 2 prostaglandins are inflammatory
The body uses essential fatty acids that are stored in the cell membranes to produce the prostaglandins. Omega-6 fatty acids are used to create both series 1 and series 2 prostaglandins (both non-inflammatory and inflammatory prostaglandins). Omega-3 fatty acids are used to create series 3 prostaglandins (non-inflammatory prostaglandins). Series 2 (inflammatory) prostaglandins are needed by the body to help fight infection. We need to have these prostaglandins present in our body for emergency situations but we want relatively smaller amounts of these prostaglandins to be present. Series 2 prostaglandins lead to inflammation of bodily tissues. They also promote platelet stickiness. These effects are very useful when disease organisms are present, and if the tissues of the body are wounded but they cause un-needed damage to tissues if they are present in overly abundant quantities.
Non-inflammatory prostaglandins are needed to keep the body running smoothly (so to speak). Proportionally, many more of these prostaglandins are needed moment by moment in the body. Good health requires a good supply of these controlling bio-molecules.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Balance: Prostaglandins and the Inflammatory Balance of the Body
Prostaglandin balance in the body is governed by essential fatty acid balance in the tissues. The balance of tissue levels of fatty acids in turn reflects the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 oils that are consumed in the diet. Historically, humans have ingested approximately equal amounts of omega-3 and omega–6 fatty acids.
The optimum ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 was determined by Scholom and Carasso in 1993 as being somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1. In an unfortunate contrast, most Americans consume these fatty acids at ratios anywhere between 10:1 and 20:1. In other words, most diets provide way too many omega-6 fatty acids and way too few omega-3 fatty acids. This relationship is very important since it governs the balance of prostaglandins in the body. Since most Americans are consuming far to many omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids, an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids in the tissues results. This leads to the overproduction of inflammatory prostaglandins in the body. This causes health problems because when you overwhelm the body with an overabundance of unneeded inflammatory prostaglandins tissue damage results. If this imbalance continues over time chronic inflammatory disease sets in. It is the dietary imbalance of essential fatty acids in Western diets that therefore explains, to a considerable degree, why inflammatory disease is rampant in American and otherwise Western populations.
Modern Diets and Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency and Imbalance
The problems caused by modern diets that are loaded with saturated fatty acids and adulterated omega-6 fatty acids and yet providing precipitously low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are illustrated in the populations that tend to consume these types of diets. For instance, in Israel the consumption of highly processed omega-6 oils from safflower and corn oil, and also of saturated fats are the highest in the world. Interestingly enough in Israel there is also an extremely high incident of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity. These are all diseases that are considered to be inflammatory conditions.
In contrast, diets in Greece and Southern Italy which typically consist of 40% fat (which is the same proportion of dietary fat as is consumed in the United States) are nevertheless associated with significantly lower rates of heart disease and prostate and breast cancer in these populations compared with populations in America. The oils in the Greek and Italian diets are predominantly olive (mainly made up of omega-9 fatty acids), and omega-3 fatty acid oils. This means the omega-3 omega-6 balance in the Greek and Italian diet is very close to the ideal balance. In America, of course, omega-3 levels are very low compared to omega-6 levels.
It is not the quantity of oil, but rather the type of oil that is impacting the health of these populations. The Greek and Italian diets are giving rise to significantly lower inflammatory prostaglandin levels in the bodily tissues of individuals in these populations. As a result it is these populations which show a significantly reduced incident of the inflammatory diseases compared to the American or Israeli populations.
To maintain a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 in your own body you need to avoid the usual oils that are the basis of the American diet and add more omega-3 rich foods to your diet. Please read the article on how to add more omega-3 oils to your diet.
Gordon, Garry, M.D., D.O., M.D.(H.), Herb Joiner-Bey, N.D.(2004).The Omega-3 Miracle. Freedom Press, Topanga, CA.
This post is part of the series: Essential Fatty Acids
- What Are Essential Fatty Acids?
- Essential Fatty Acids: How They Influence Health
- Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency: The Modern Nutritional Illness
- What are Prostaglandins? How Essential Fatty Acid Deficiency Causes Inflammatory Disease
- How to Get Omega 3 Oils in your Diet