Balance your eicosanoids

cells communicatingYour body is made up of a “billion odd cells”.  The cells in your body need to talk to one another, in order to make sure things run smoothly.  There are a number of different ways cells “talk” to one another.   The communication systems you most likely learned about in high school biology, are the endocrine (hormone) system and nervous system. Both systems  allow cells to communicate over “long distances”.    But there is another very important communication system, that you don’t typically learn about in high school biology – this is the system that allows cells sitting next to one another, to talk to each other.

Eicosanoids are the “language” of cells

The cells talk to one another using a family of chemicals called eicosanoids.  I know it is a mouthful, but all it is really saying is that if you look at the chemical structure of these molecules, they are made up of 20 carbon atoms and they are derived from fatty acids.   Scientists have discovered that there are lots of different types of eicosanoids – they have fancy names such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes and docosanoids.

All the eicosanoids ultimately send either the message – everything is okay or oops, I am in trouble, so when we talk about them it is often easier just to talk about “good” eicosanoids and “bad” eicosanoids.

 The “bad” eicosanoid

When ththumbs downings aren’t going very well – a cell wants to make sure that the systems of the body are supercharged to help, so we find the “bad” eicosanoids do things like

  • tell platelets to stick together and form a clot (to stop you from bleeding to death),
  • tell blood vessels to tighten up so that less blood flows through them (a very good idea if you are bleeding or you have been invaded by a bacteria that is trying to spread)
  • tell the immune system to come to the rescue because some or other bug has launched an invasion
  • they also make sure that things ache (produce pain) so you don’t continue dancing the night away in the shoes that are crushing your baby toe etc.

The “good” eicosanoids

When thithumbs upngs are going very well – a cell doesn’t need any protective mechanisms to kick in and help it, so it sends out the opposite kinds of message

  • the platlets are just cruising around
  • the immune system is just doing general patrols
  • And of course you’re not feeling any pain because everything is functioning normally

Eicosanoid manufacture

Eicosanoids are made from omega fatty acids, which are found in the membranes of your cells.  Special enzymes break the fatty acids up, into all the different kinds of eicosanoids.  The type of eicosanoid that is made, is dependent on the type of fatty acids in the membrane.

eicosanoid production

Omega 3 fatty acids end up making “good” eicosanoids and omega 6 fatty acids end up making “bad” eicosanoids.  In an ideal world, we should have equal amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in our membranes, so we have everything in balance and end up making the same number of good and bad eicosanoids.

eicosanoid balanceUnfortunately today, because our diet is dominated by omega 6 fatty acids – we tend to be making way  too many bad eicosanoids, and not enough good eicosanoids.

This means our body thinks it is under attack all the time, and so it is in a heightened state of alert, resulting in us having high levels of inflammation.  Inflammation is associated with the chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimers, arthritis etc.

“Balancing your eicosanoids” will bring down the level of inflammation in your body and improve your overall health.

How to balance your eicosanoids

It is very simple, eat more omega 3 fatty acids and cut down on your consumption of omega 6 fatty acids.

So where do you find what ?   Omega 3 is found in “fish” in the form of EPA and DHA.   In theory you can also get omega 3 fatty acids from flaxseed (ALA),  but in practice this is such a complicated chemical reaction, that it is really not a very efficient way of getting in omega-3.

omega 3 pathway

Omega 6 is found in pretty much everything else, including sunflower oil, maize, meat, eggs and milk.

omega 6 pathway

So for better health you need to start eating lots and lots of fish or otherwise consider taking a omega 3 supplement – make sure it’s an omega 3 only supplement, since you’re already getting all the omega 6 you need from your diet, so you don’t need any extra.

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