As a person who has dealt with the pain of arthritis for over 40 years, I can only say I wish I had known about the effects of the omega-6/omega-3 ratio a long time ago. My form of arthritis was ankylosing spondylosis (AS or spinal arthritis). It is a type of psoriatic arthritis and is related to a specific type of immune system (HLA-B27). Over 95% of the people diagnosed with AS have the HLA-B27 genotype, but only 1 to 2% of the people with HLA-B27 develop AS. It appears that exposure to certain antigens create antibodies that end up attacking specific collagen tissues in people with AS.
Psoriatic arthritis is one of three types of arthritis, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis being the two other types. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are typically the primary treatment for all forms of arthritis. Steroidal injections are also used for treatments of flare-up in specific joints. The NSAIDs block the action of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes that are responsible for converting omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids into prostaglandin hormones. The reason they are used is because some of the prostaglandin hormones our body makes can promote the joint inflammation that causes the pain and joint damage in arthritis. However, not all of the prostaglandin hormones that our body can make will promote inflammation, only those that are made from the omega-6 fatty acid, arachadonic acid (AA). If our body makes a prostaglandin from omega-3 fatty acids or even a precursor to AA called DGLA, they are anti-inflammatory. It is the ratio of these fatty acid precursors in our cell membranes that determine if our body makes more inflammatory or anti-inflammatory hormones.
Our diet determines the ratio of these omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in our cell membranes. In addition, our intake of carbs has an effect on the conversion of the beneficial DGLA to the inflammation promoting AA. The presence of insulin increases the conversion of DGLA to AA, while the presence of EPA (the omega-3 fatty acid found in fish) inhibits the conversion of DGLA to AA.
Once I learned this, it took about 3 weeks to change the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in my body enough to eliminate my need for NSAIds. I wish I had know this 40 years ago!
Swiss Chard Recipe from Whole Foods
Swiss chard is one of a few green leafy veggies we can grow during the summer in our area. Most of the recipes you find online have you saute the chard in a small amount of oil. This recipe taste much better and is healthier–I use real butter in place of olive oil.
- Chop garlic and let sit for 5 minutes to bring out its health-promoting properties.
- Use a large pot (3 quart) with lots of water. Make sure water is at a rapid boil before adding Swiss chard.
- Cut off tough, bottom part of Swiss chard stems.
- Add the chopped leaves to the boiling water. Do not cover. Cook for 3 minutes; begin timing as soon as you drop the Swiss chard into the boiling water.
- Place in colander and press out excess water.
- Transfer to serving dish and toss with rest of ingredients while it is still hot.
- Using a knife and fork, cut Swiss chard into small pieces for better flavor.
The difference in omega-6 and omega-3 is the location of one double bond.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, omega-3 and omega-6 are names that refer to the location of the first double bond counting from the methyl end of the fatty acid molecule. If you have read very many of my post, you know there is a huge difference in the effects these two molecules have in our bodies. So how can such a small difference make such a big difference?
In reality these molecules don’t look like these straight structures drawn on paper. In three dimensions, each one of those double bonds creates a bend or kink in the molecule and those double bonds do not allow rotation like the single bonds do. When these fatty acids are used to create the lipid bi-layer that makes up part of our cell membrane, they are more or less straight, laying next to each other with the acid ends all in the same direction connected to a phosphate to create a phospholipid. The tails, the methyl ends of the fatty acid, are all oriented toward the middle of the membrane. The bi-layer has an inner and outer layer of these phospholipids with the tips of the tails on the opposite side touching each other.
Anything that goes into and out of the cells has to go through this lipid bi-layer. The kinks and bends in the fatty acids that make up the bi-layer affect how easily things can pass through. Omega-6 lipids with their longer straight section create a tighter layer, the omega-3 lipids with the bend near the end create a more open layer.
That is the first big difference; the second big difference comes from the hormones that are created from these lipids. Just like in the lipid bi-layer, the double bonds create bends and kinks in the molecules. The COX (cyclo-oxygenase) enzymes create prostaglandins from these fatty acids by folding them near the middle and create a ring structure. The methyl end of the fatty acid sticks out from the ring and affects how it binds to receptors on cells. It is the binding of these hormones to receptors on cell surfaces that turn various functions on or off.
So it is that small difference in the chemical structure makes a big difference in the 3 dimensional shapes of the hormones and the porosity of the lipid bi-layer.
I will be taking a break from blogging for a while as we try to recover from the recent flood. We are OK, and so is our home, but we have a cabin on the river that was inundated. Our hearts go out to all those that lost their homes and especially those that lost family and friends.