The kinds of fats that make up your diet directly affect the severity of allergic inflammation and other symptoms.
The inflammatory process can become uncontrollable or over-reactive when certain dietary factors skew the delicate balance of inflammation-mediating substances.
What is the role of Prostagladins?
Prostaglandins, which can either cause or decrease inflammation, are composed of different fatty acids. The type of prostaglandins (anti- or pro-inflammatory) manufactured by the body depends upon what kinds of fats make up your diet, as well as on the presence of certain enzymes and nutrients (vitamins C, B3, and B6, magnesium, and zinc).
In healthy individuals, the body balances these prostaglandins to ensure adequate immune response and to limit inflammatory responses.
The two principle types of essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6.
Deficiencies in EFAs, particularly the omega-3s, are quite common in America because of modern food processing techniques. Humans evolved on a diet that contained small but roughly equal amounts of omega-3s and omega-6s.
When the food supply began to change about one hundred years ago to more processed foods, the amount of omega-3s in many commercial products declined. At the same time, the domestic livestock industry began to use feed grain, which happens to be rich in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s.
Because of these changes, the American diet now has 20 to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, rather than the ideal 1:2 ratio.
Prostaglandins that cause inflammation are formed when the diet is high in animal fats, which contain high amounts of arachidonic acid.
Arachidonic acid is a long-chain polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, found primarily in animal foods such as meat, poultry; and dairy products. When the diet is abundant in arachidonic acids, these are stored in cell membranes.
An enzyme transforms these stored acids into pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and other chemical messengers called leukotrienes, which instigate inflammation. If there is an overabundance of arachidonic acid or “bad” fats, then more pro-inflammatory agents will be produced by the body. This process is called the arachidonic acid cascade.
The arachidonic acid cascade has been implicated in provoking asthma attacks, as pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes have been found to constrict bronchial passages, increase airway membrane permeability, cause airway swelling, and promote secretion of mucus.”
This inflammatory process also leads to or exacerbates headaches, skin rashes, and arthritic pain. Most Allergy sensitive patients and most people in general, do not consume enough of the beneficial omega-6 EFAs found in vegetable oils, but eat too much of arachidonic acids found in animal fats.
Beneficial omega-6-fatty acids (linoleic acid and gamma-linolenic acid) are metabolized into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins necessary to prevent autoimmune disease, as well as keep the skin barrier intact. Most people also have an enzyme block (delta-6-desaturase) that does not let them properly metabolize omega-6-fatty acids.
Borage oil, black currant oil, and evening primrose oil (in that order) contain the highest levels of beneficial omega-6 EFAs. Dietary consumption of all omega-6 fats needs to be in balance. Allergy patients should limit intake of foods containing arachidonic acid (animal fats) and eat more vegetable oil.
Anti-inflammatory prostaglandins are produced from omega-3 fatty acids. The primary omega-3 fatty acid is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is abundant in flaxseed oil.
Check the expiration date and adhere to it; flaxseed oil can rapidly turn rancid and should be stored in the refrigerator.
Organic, whole flaxseeds can also be used to add a nutty flavor to cereals, vegetables, or casseroles; place a few tablespoons in a coffee grinder to release the seeds’ oils. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), often considered a weed, is actually a nutritious vegetable high in omega-3 fatty acids. Less than one cup supplies a full day’s supply of ALA. Purslane also contains vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that is necessary for the formation of the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, as well as vitamins A and C.
Other types of omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are chemically closer to becoming prostaglandins than ALA. Food sources high in EPA/DHA include salmon, bluefish, bass, trout, organ meats, and brown and red algae. High cooking temperatures can destroy the EFA content in certain foods and oils, so baking or grilling fish is a preferable cooking method to frying. For allergy patients, we recommend supplementing with all three forms of omega-3s (ALA, EPA, and DHA).
Clinical research has proven that dietary supplementation of omega-3 EFAs is especially effective in reducing asthma symptoms. In one study conducted by Italian researchers, seven atopic patients suffering from seasonal asthma were administered oral supplements of omega-3 fats (3 g per day) for 30 days. The researchers found that forced expiratory volume significantly improved and bronchial reactivity decreased as a result of omega-3 EFAs. The test subjects then stopped taking omega-3 supplements for 30 days, at which time their lung function had returned to low, pre-treatment values and airway constriction increased.”
Dietary Recommendations for Improving the Body’s Fat Intake
- Eat foods rich in the three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—the oils flaxseed (58%), chia seed (30%), poppy seed (15%), pumpkin seed (15%), canola, walnut, and soy, purslane and cattail, and dark green leafy vegetables;24 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—cold-water fish, salmon, mackerel, halibut, and Chinese snake oil; docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—cold-water fish and commercial supplements containing vegetable sources of DHA.
- Obtain an adequate supply of niacin, vitamins B6 and E, zinc, and magnesium to enhance fatty-acid metabolism. Beans, especially lima, soy, great northern, kidney, and navy, poultry, and fish contain these important nutrients as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to check for food allergies first.
- Reduce carbohydrate intake and avoid all refined sugars, processed foods, margarine, hydrogenated oils, and gluten-containing foods such as wheat, oats, and barley.
- Incorporate certain spices and herbs into the diet, such as fresh mint leaves, thyme oil, and ginger; these foods contain substances that will help stabilize fats in the cell membranes.
- Avoid all fats and oils containing very-long-chain fatty acids, such as mustard, peanut butter, peanut oil, and canola oil.