Omega 3 vs Omega 6 in controling inflammation

TL;DR: Why do health experts say we need more omega 3 foods in our diet as opposed to omega 6 foods? If you are eating heavy fried foods full of vegetable oils you are likely eating foods heavy with omega 6. You should decrease your omega 6 intake and increase your omega 3 intake with fish and grass fed meats.

To start let's first talk about the function of these fatty acids.

Cell membranes contain phospholipids that are crucial to biological function. It's not just the outside walls of the cells but also the organelles in the cell such as the mitochondria that have complex fatty membranes. We can use the analogy of silicone chips to understand this. Just as a computer needs a very well crafted silicon surface to carry the electronics, our cells need specific membranes to allow biological activity.

These membranes are made up of fats that repel water and phosphates that attract water. This arrangement allows these phospholipids to line up and regulate liquid in and out of the cell. The cell membrane also contains proteins that control many other chemical reactions - but these proteins always exist surrounded by these phospho lipids.

Some phospholipids are saturated in that they have fats that are stiff with hydrogen while other phospholipids are unsaturated because they have a double bond between carbons and are more fluid. Our bodies' cells need both kinds of fats in the cell membranes because our cells need both stiffness but also flexibility.

To make the picture even more complicated, among the unsaturated fats there are two different types, omega 6 and omega 3. The chemical difference between them is the double bond at the 6th carbon for omega 6 and the 3rd for omega 3.

Scientist are still working this out, but a key omega 6 is arachidonic acid. This phospholipid plays an important role in inflammation. Why would a fat help create inflammation? Because this fat is a building block of the pro inflammatory hormone called prostaglandin. When we cut ourselves one of the chemicals that comes to the rescue is prostoglandin.

The mechanism is complex but it appears that eating plenty of omega 3 displaces omega 6 fats and thus decreases inflammation.

The rub is that most vegetables contain omega 6 fats, not omega 3 fats. And so we are out of balance with a mostly vegetable diet. Vegetable oils such as corn oil are especially high in omega 6 fats. So it's possible that when we eat lots of corn and other starchy vegetables and when we ingest lots of seed oils we are increasing our inflammation because of the amount of linoleic acid in these foods that is converted to arachidonic acid that is pro-inflamatory.

But it's important to point out that there is a number of other theories on why we are seeing so much chronic inflammation. For example, we see high inflammation in the presence of high insulin. It's possible that glucose from carbohydrates is overwhelming our cells causing cells to misbehave. Another theory involves the oxidation of oils, especially cooked seed oils such as corn oil. High amounts of these chemicals could lead to inflammation. Or maybe it's a combination of these things. Sugary foods cooked in seed oils comes to mind.

In future blogs I will talk about my own experience with inflammation and how I used intermittent fasting as an easy way to control it.

Cell membrane with inner lipid and outer phosphate

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