Every living organism has the natural ability to repair its tissues after suffering an injury. In animals and men, this basic process is called inflammation. Dioscorides, Greek physician, and surgeon, c. 40-90 A.D., described for us in a simple way what inflammation is: “redness, tumor, heat, and pain”.
The mechanisms of inflammation
When tissues in our body are affected by a cut, burn, poison, or infection, blood platelets immediately detect the injury. They rush to the injured site and they begin piling up around the damaged part. Next, they release a chemical substance called platelet-derived growth factor or PDGF.
PDGF sends a message to the immune system white blood cells telling them something is happening. When white blood cells “hear” the message, they get to work to produce eicosanoids.
Eicosanoids are potent substances, similar to hormones. Cytokines, chemokines, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes are the main eicosanoids. These substances are in charge of the repair process which includes the following steps:
1. They dilate the vessels in the damaged area to facilitate the inflow of other immune cells that come as reinforcement.
2. They seal the wound by activating the coagulation of the blood around the area where platelets have accumulated.
3. They make the surrounding tissue permeable so that immune cells can enter, find the intruders that may have penetrated the cells and take care of them.
4. They stimulate the growth of cells in the damaged tissue so they can rebuild the fragment that is missing.
5. Finally they manufacture small vessels in the damaged area to allow the arrival of oxygen and nutrients for its reconstruction.
These mechanisms that cause acute inflammation are absolutely essential to the integrity of the body and its incessant reconstruction due to inevitable attacks. When such processes are well regulated and conform to the other cell functions, the mechanisms are in harmony and they auto-limit themselves. For example, they stop the process of building new tissues when essential repairs have already been made.
But eicosanoids can also contribute to an array of problems, what it is known as chronic inflammation which in turn results in different diseases. Eicosanoids are made of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids with the help of COX and LOX enzymes.
And here is where the problem starts because when we include a lot of omega-6s in our diet, our body produces an excess of omega-6 eicosanoids which stimulate chronic inflammation. An excess of prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes are associated with cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, depression, pain, fever, inflammation, stroke, migraine, and arthritis, fatal blood clotting, and cancer.
The brain and inflammation
The immune system is connected to the brain. Psychological stress triggers the production of inflammatory substances that can cause anxiety. Studies have shown that the type and level of fat in the blood allows predicting the inflammatory response to psychological stress. The unbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 can be related to an increase of inflammatory eicosanoids.
Heart disease and inflammation
It is accepted that inflammation is at the root of heart disease. This could be the reason why patients with inflammatory health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, allergies, lupus, and depression have a high risk of heart attacks.
Anti-inflammation medication and omega-3 fats work by blocking omega-6 fats
Anti-inflammation medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) work by blocking the effects of omega-6s which in turn produce eicosanoids that trigger pain, fever, swollenness, and heat. They work by blocking the enzyme COX. When this enzyme is blocked, arachidonic acid, the most potent omega-6 fat, cannot produce its inflammatory substances.
Another anti-inflammatory medication, Celebrex, also prevents omega-6 from producing eicosanoids. Omega-3 fats work in a similar way but do not have side effects as pills.