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Easing Liver Inflammation: Balancing Omega-3's and Omega-6's

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. February 22, 2010

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Although both are required for a healthy immune response, learn why those with inflammation of the liver should favor omega-3 fatty acids over omega-6’s.

Considered to be essential fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are both necessary for human health. There are many reasons that health conscious individuals increase their consumption of omega-3 laden foods, while reducing their omega-6’s. Upon recognizing why health professionals advise consuming more omega-3’s than omega-6’s, those with liver disease have every reason to follow suit.

Taken for everything from depression to heart disease to arthritis, the primary therapeutic action of omega-3 fatty acids is squelching inflammation. For decades, omega-3’s have proven their ability to improve inflammatory conditions. Because hepatitis falls under this umbrella, this liver condition benefits from omega-3 fatty acid consumption.

Hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver, and is involved in most types of liver disease, including:

  • Viral Hepatitis: when hepatitis is caused by a virus – this includes Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis: when hepatitis is caused by alcohol, common in alcoholics
  • Steatohepatitis: when fatty liver disease escalates and causes inflammation

The Inflammatory Pump

To address its current needs, the body is always trying to strike the right balance between inflammation and anti-inflammation. In achieving this balance, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are known to have opposing roles. The following events maintain this inflammatory pump:

  • When an infection or foreign invader is detected, the immune system triggers production of Prostaglandin II.
  • To quarantine the infection or invader, Prostaglandin II produces an inflammatory response that sends white blood cells to the affected area.
  • Almost immediately, the immune system also triggers the production of Prostaglandin I to suppress inflammation and begin the healing process.

The balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can affect the inflammatory pump’s balance, because of their role in making prostaglandins:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are a necessary component in the production of Prostaglandin I.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are a necessary component in the production of Prostaglandin II.

Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s

Consequently, omega-3’s are needed to suppress inflammation and encourage healing, while omega-6’s are needed to initiate the inflammatory response. Nutritionists believe that a ratio of 2:1 of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3’s help keep the inflammatory pump in balance.

A suspected culprit of today’s high rate of inflammatory diseases, many of our modern day food choices are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and stingy in omega-3’s. In fact, experts estimate that the typical American diet contains 14 – 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3’s.

  • Omega-6’s are found in certain seeds and nuts, and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils (like soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower and cottonseed oils) are high in omega-6’s and are used in a majority of fast foods, snack foods, cookies, crackers and sweets. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, soybean oil alone is now so ubiquitous in fast foods and processed foods that an astounding 20 percent of the calories in the American diet are estimated to come from this single source.
  • Omega-3’s are found in the fat of cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod and bluefish; other seafood including algae and krill; and some plant sources, especially walnuts and flax seeds.

Because it prevents infection from spreading to nearby tissues and organs, inflammation is a crucial process. However, too much inflammation has the opposite effect – and can easily harm neighboring structures. This is frequently the case in liver disease where hepatitis (liver inflammation) damages nearby liver cells.

Omega-3 fatty acids extinguish the flames of inflammation and omega-6 fatty acids fan those flames. To keep liver inflammation at bay and prevent that inflammation from damaging the liver, those with liver disease are likely to benefit from boosting their dietary intake of omega-3’s, while simultaneously curbing foods full of omega-6 fatty acids.
For more information about omega-3 fatty acids and liver disease, read Omega-3’s Benefits Now Include Liver Protection.

References:

http://proteins-carb-fats.suite101.com/article.cfm/omega3, Omega-3: Controlling Inflammation in the Body, Linda Mundorff, Retrieved February 19, 2010, suite101.com, 2010.

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400149/balancing-omega-3-and-omega-6.html, Balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6?, Retrieved February 21, 2010, Andrew Weil, MD, 2010.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/40939.php, Omega-3 Fatty Acids Inhibit Growth Of Liver Cancer Cells, Retrieved February 19, 2010, MediLexicon International Ltd., 2010.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15485592, Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation, Mori TA, et al, Retrieved February 19, 2010, Current Atherosclerosis Reports, November 2004.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17393517, Omega-3 fatty acids alleviate chemically induced acute hepatitis by suppression of cytokines, Schmöcker C, et al, Retrieved February 19, 2010, Hepatology, April 2007.

http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Omega-3-linked-to-lower-levels-of-inflammation, Omega-3 linked to lower levels of inflammation, Stephen Daniells, Retrieved February 19, 2010, Decision News Media SAS, 2010.

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm, Omega-3 fatty acids, Retrieved February 19, 2010, University of Maryland Medical Center, 2010.

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