In our last post we left off with a recommendation to increase vegetable intake as a means of reducing total carbohydrate intake, and to also improve the ratio between 0mega-3s and omega-6s. This is very important as this ratio is totally unbalanced by our common western diets, which, among other things will also increase the level of inflammation that we are under.
Chronic inflammation can occur when your body is constantly fighting a disease or condition that is putting undue stress on a particular area. It is relatively common in people suffering from cancer, arthritis, lower back pain, asthma and depression. In extreme cases this inflammation creates a breakdown of muscle tissue with associated weight loss, which is known as cachexia.
While the exact cause of this chronic inflammation is poorly understood, what is known is that specific messenger cells called cytokines are released which act to amplify the inflammation process in the body. Under most circumstances this is a very important process because this pro-inflammatory mechanism is very important in the healing process when the body’s tissues and organs are damaged and also act to help trigger our white blood cells to action when we have a virus or infection.
However, when this process is unable to be “switched off” this amplification process builds on itself and creates a breakdown of muscle tissue and we get associated loss of strength and a decreased quality of life. In this case it is beneficial for us to break the inflammation cycle as under these chronic inflammation conditions it is very hard for us to build muscle.
We also know that the inflammatory cytokines are mediated through messengers called eicosanoids. Depending on the eicosanoids involved there may be a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory response. The pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are the by products of omega-6 fatty acids while omega-3 fatty acids create anti-inflammatory eicosanoids.
These essential fatty acids (our body cannot produce these), are gained from our diet. A general rule is that the brown things that we eat (grains, bread etc) have a high amount of omega-6 (pro-inflammation) while the green things that we eat have high amounts of omega-3 (anti-inflammation). It is not a wonder then that our western diet has moved from approximately a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3’s, to approximately a 15+:1 ratio!
How do we break this chronic inflammation cycle?
Obviously for us to break the inflammation cycle we need to alter our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in favour of the anti-inflammatory process. Research has shown that by supplementing with fish oil, which has high concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of EPA & DHA, we can decrease the amount of inflammation in the body.
However, the dosage required is quite high (approximately 1kg of oily fish per day!) for someone in a cachexic state and the only safe way to get this amount without the risk of mercury poisoning is with a practitioner grade fish oil supplement.
It should be noted that large dosages of fish oil may cause gastrointestinal problems, and there is also a risk of blood thinning at very high dosages (above 6g of fish oil per day).
Other benefits of fish oil
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to be beneficial for other health conditions including: hypertriglyceridemia, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke prevention, atherosclerosis, angina, cancer prevention, brain/eye development in infants, Crohn’s disease, Lupus, psoriasis, eczema, asthma, depression and mental illnesses.
For more information on fish oil or the inflammation process talk to one of our Exercise Physiologists.