Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Risk of Inflammatory Diseases Burlington VT
South Burlington, VT
Stone House Associates
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Fletcher Allen Health Care Anesthesiology
Community Health Center of Burlington
South Burlington, VT
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South Burlington, VT
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Omega-6 Fatty Acids and Risk of Inflammatory Diseases
Omega-3 refers to a group or "family" of unsaturated fatty acids. The first fatty acid in this group is named alpha linolenic acid or just linolenic acid, and sometimes it is just called omega-3. Linolenic acid cannot be made in the body and therefore, it is classified as an essential fatty acid and must be obtained from either the diet or in supplement form. The other two fatty acids in the omega-3 family are named eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body can manufacture EPA and DHA by conversions from linolenic acid.Thousands of scientific studies have evaluated the multiple ways that omega-3 fatty acids promotes not only cardiovascular health, but also the healthy functioning of many other biological activities. Many Americans don't get enough of it in their diets. One reason is that omega-3 oils are very susceptible to spoilage and so many food manufacturers remove it to keep products fresh. Another reason is that omega-3 oils mostly come from cold water fish and wild game- something most Americans don't eat in great quantities. Flaxseed oil is another good source of omega-3. Other sources include chia, rapeseed, soybeans, alfalfa, and walnuts.
Omega-6 is an essential fatty acid. Several other fats are derived from omega-6 including gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), and arachidonic acid (AA). Collectively, these fats make up the omega-6 family of fatty acids. While many scientists believe that severe deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids exist in the United States, the same cannot be said of omega-6. By some estimates, many Americans consume 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. This is because so many of the common vegetable oils in the American diet-such as corn, safflower and sunflower oils- are packed with omega-6. Scientists believe that such large quantities of omega-6 in the body may trigger inflammation, sensitivity to pain and thickening of the blood.
Prolonged inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, leads to a progressive shift in the type of cells which are present at the site of inflammation and is characterized by simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process. A large variety of proteins are involved in inflammation, and any one of them is open to a genetic mutation which impairs or otherwise dysregulates the normal function and expression of that protein. The immune system is often involved with inflammatory disorders, demonstrated in both allergic reactions and some myopathies, with many immune system disorders resulting in abnormal inflammation. Non-immune diseases with a etiological origins in inflammatory processes are thought to include cancer, atherosclerosis, and ischaemic heart disease. There are many chronic inflammatory diseases and some examples of these would be: asthma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis and the list goes on.
Many changes in the Western diet over the last 30 years have resulted in a dramatic increase in the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The increase in this ratio is believed to lead to an overall increase of whole body inflammation causing a higher incidence in diseases such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergies, diabetes and arthritis and may even impact inflammatory gene expression. To test this theory, researchers fed 27 healthy humans a controlled diet mimicking the omega-6 / omega-3 ratios of early humans over five weeks. They found that when they looked at the gene levels of immune signals and cytokines (protein immune messengers) that affect autoimmunity and allergy in blood cells they found that many key signaling genes that cause inflammation were markedly reduced when compared to their number in humans fed a normal 21st century diet. These results suggested that by reducing the amount of omega-6 and increasing the amount of omega-3 people may be able to reduce their incidence of inflammatory diseases.1
1 Weaver KL, Ivester P, Seeds M, et al. Effect of Dietary Fatty Acids on Inflammatory Gene Expression in Healthy Humans. J Biol Chem. 2009;284(23):15400-7.