Updated on January 7, 2016
The role of Fats in Increasing and Decreasing Inflammation
What do hangovers after a night of partying have to do with inflammation and eating healthy fats? That hangover is the result of inflammation in various areas of your body causing headaches, aches and pains, and ultimately that question circulating through your head “why did I do that?”. To which I always hear my Dad answer with “seemed like a good idea at the time…”.
Inflammation is the body trying to heal itself, realizing there is a problem and sending all of the treatment it can to that area. I think of inflammation as the ambulance, accompanied by fire and police personnel. When you get cut, the body swells up at the area (inflames) and sends white blood cells etc. to that site to get it healed and closed up. The same thing happens inside your body when something goes array. Inflammation is not the cause, it is the healing cure.
Inflammation has been the topic of much discussion of late, mainly because our bodies are reacting to multiple toxins in our environment and continuously staying inflamed. Our bodies weren’t meant to stay inflamed, which is why we have two pathways to decrease inflammation and one pathway to increase inflammation. One of the issues is the Standard American Diet, we are not giving our bodies the right fats, or the ratio of fats, to support the prostaglandins that are needed to appropriately increase or decrease inflammation.
Prostaglandins – what are those? Prostaglandins occur in nearly all of the body tissues and fluids and, among other functions, are responsible for the inflammation in the body. There are two anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (PG1 and PG3) and one pro-inflammatory prostaglandin (PG2). The Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Omega-6 is responsible for ultimately producing PG1 and the EFA Omega-3 is responsible for producing PG3. These two fatty acids are deemed “essential” because the body can not produce them, they have to come from our diet. These two polyunsaturated fatty acids are responsible for reducing inflammation. Saturated fats are responsible for creating inflammation when the body needs to heal.
Let me say this again, you need to eat saturated fats to heal….
Refer back to my post on Why Healthy Fats are Good for You for a more in depth discussion of Saturated Fats, PUFA’s and MUFA’s. Also, look for a more in depth discussion in the future on this blog of which fats and oils to consume to get the Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids and Saturated fats. ( I just tried to link to a couple other sites but they weren’t exactly what I wanted to portray, so coming soon…)
Back to the hangover, obviously something went array if you still have a headache in the morning because PG1 and PG3 should have taken over. Refer the diagram I created to try to visualize the rest of the story. First off, for the fats to be broken down into prostaglandins, the body must be digesting properly (for instance, if you are having any issues digesting fats, then they are likely not getting absorbed and used by your body) and your liver must be functioning properly (again partially related to fat digestion). Also, amino acids, vitamin B6, Magnesium and Zinc have to be present in the body for prostaglandins to be created. The environmental working group states that 40% of adults have magnesium deficiency. Click on this link to see EWG statistics on mineral deficiency.
So, if all of the systems are working in your body and deficiencies are not present, then why still the hangover? Several things stop enzymes from working to ultimately produce the prostaglandin – the inhibitors. Simply, alcohol stops the two anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, PG1 and PG3, from being produced, but doesn’t stop PG2, the inflammatory prostaglandin. So continuing my analogy, every ambulance in your body was sent to the sites of inflammation, with no radio for someone tell them to leave.
What about the other inhibitors? Aspirin, NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-immflamatory drugs – things like Advil, Motrin, Tylenol) and Steroids stop the production of one of the precursors to PG2. This stops PG2 from being produced, ultimately reducing inflammation and pain from the headache or body ache. Unfortunately, these anti-inflammatory drugs also stop the production of PG1 and PG3 by blocking the enzymes that help produce all three prostaglandins.
Trans-Fatty Acids are also inhibitors – refer back to the Why Healthy Fats are good for you post for a short discussion on these. Margarine and shortening are common products containing partially hydrogenated fats (trans-fatty acids). Most processed foods are made with partially hydrogenated fat – check your ingredients carefully.
Prostaglandin’s are not just responsible for inflammation, so when they do get turned off, other metabolic functions in the body are also turned off. This can result in kidney failure, liver failure, and ulcers with chronic use of these inhibitors.
Excessive insulin in the body creates a special issue. This is especially relevant for those of you that have blood sugar balance dysfunction and are headed toward, or already are in, insulin resistence. The extra insulin running around your body directly affects the production of PG2. In fact, it shuts off production of PG1 and actually helps start producing even more PG2. So not only is one of the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins shut off, the insulin is helping make even more inflammatory prostaglandin.
According to medical news today, “Chronic inflammation can eventually cause several diseases and conditions, including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, and hay fever.”
The key with everything is ….balance. You need all three types of fats in your diet, Omega-6 and Omega-3 should be at a 1:1 ratio, with some saturated fat thrown in, so that you can heal when you need to.
The next time you have a headache, first try drinking some water (dehydration can be a cause of inflammation), then try some fish oil. Notice that EPA, which is found in fish oil, is an inhibitor to PG2. The added bonus in consuming Fish Oil is that the EPA also helps make PG3. Turmeric has also been shown to help reduce inflammation without affecting PG1 and PG3.
I woke up with a headache, downed some water, took a Fish Oil pill (high-quality) with some food and HCL so I would digest properly, drank some turmeric tea and the pain is greatly reduced!