An important part of nourishing yourself well is including plenty of healthy fats in the diet. Fats are the building blocks of many things in the body including cells, hormones and prostaglandins, regulators of inflammation. Fat can be either saturated (butter, beef and coconut oil), monounsaturated (olive oil and avocado) or polyunsaturated (fish, canola oil and blackcurrant seed oil). Like all things in nutrition optimal health is achieved by consuming a balance of each of these fats. In this article we look at how prostaglandins are synthesised and why a balanced diet is so crucial to this process.

Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that exist in almost all the body’s tissues and are essential for a host of bodily functions. Prostaglandins are formed from essential fatty acids (EFAs), a process which is understood to occur in cell membranes. We have anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. These two types of prostaglandins work in harmony to facilitate a range of processes, particularly maintaining homeostasis in the body. Importantly prostaglandins regulate cell communication systems for opening and closing channels; control blood flow to kidneys; manage inflammation; and dilate bronchial tubes.

Inflammation pathways

Key to the body’s inflammation response is the ability to inflame and then anti-inflame. Prostaglandins of both varieties are critical to this. While inflammation is often viewed negatively, it is actually an integral part of the body’s defence and immune mechanisms – an inflammatory process must be the precursor to for proper anti-inflammation to occur. There are three types of prostaglandins, PG1, PG2, PG3 which are conjugated from polyunsaturated (PUFAs) and saturated fatty acids (SFAs). The PUFAs come from essential EFAs meaning we must get them from food because the body doesn’t produce them.

  • Prostaglandin 1 (PG1) from Linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated Omeg-6 fatty acid, and are anti-inflammatory;
  • Prostaglandin 2 (PG2) from saturated fats and are pro-inflammatory;
  • Prostaglandin 3 (PG3) from Alpha Linolenic acid, Omega-3 fatty acid monounsaturated fats and are anti-inflammatory.
Another reason that we have become so fearful of saturated fat is due to its role in producing the inflammatory prostaglandin PG2. However, as discussed below, our body’s ability to inflame is just as important as its ability to un-inflame. Like all things with nutrition, balance is the key and no one food or nutrient is “evil.”

Anti-inflammatory drugs and prostaglandins

Inflammation in Western society is rife and one of key underlying factors behind our high rates of disease. The low-fat dietary paradigm that dominated the last fifty years and is still very influential today has meant that a huge number of people are fatty acid deficient and therefore do not have adequate prostaglandin production. For the body to effectively maintain homeostasis we require balanced production of all three prostaglandins, but today many lifestyle factors disrupt at least some part of prostaglandin production. One of the big disrupters are anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID – Ibroprofen) and steroids.

These anti-inflammatory drugs get their name because they block the conjugation of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins meaning that the effects of inflammation are not felt. PG2 are the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and are conjugated from Arachidonic Acid. Aspirin blocks Arachidonic Acid from being converted into PG2; however, as aforementioned the inflammatory response is a crucial part of the body’s ability to un-inflame. If PG2 function is blocked then the body’s response to scenarios requiring anti-inflammatory, is inhibited.

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is the precursor to PG3.

Final words on prostaglandins

Anti-inflammatory drugs actually have an impact on all prostaglandin function, not just the inflammatory PG2 prostaglandins. While they may provide temporary relief of pain and inflammation, over a longer period they serve to disrupt the body’s own inflammation management response. As with all medications and supplements usage should be limited and we should first seek to reduce inflammation through consumption of a properly prepared, nutrient dense whole food diet.

If you would like to learn more about prostaglandins and your body’s inflammatory pathways then working with a nutritional therapist is a great idea. Contact me for more information.

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