Written by: Kevin Cann
After talking to a few of my fellow peers I realized there was still a misunderstanding out there about animal fats, especially arachidonic acid. Most people believe arachidonic acid should be kept to a minimum in the diet because of its pro-inflammatory effects. This means our diets would have to limit liver, egg yolks, and animal fats.
Contrary to popular beliefs, animal fats only contain a small amount of arachidonic acid and grass fed meat tends to have less than conventional meats. When cells are damaged by oxidation, eicosanoids are formed from the arachidonic acid. Examples of eicosanoids are prostaglandins, prostacyclins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes. These eicosanoids have numerous important roles in our body in our inflammation response, generating fever, and regulation of blood pressure, blood clotting, immune system regulation, reproduction control, tissue growth, and our sleep cycle (Diwan, 2008).
All of those functions in which arachidonic acid plays a role are critical to our health. Without them we would die prematurely and cease to exist as a species. This alone makes limiting arachidonic acid dangerous. In fact, NSAIDs work by down regulating the eicosanoids and that is how they control inflammation, fever, and clotting. A study performed by Chan and colleagues showed the dangers of limiting these eicosanoids via NSAIDs. This study was looking at arthritis and its resolution. Chan stated that prostaglandin e2 was present during resolution and is essential for LIMITING chronic inflammation in autoimmune arthritis (Chan, 2010). This study shows that AA also has an anti-inflammatory role as well.
Being deficient in AA has some negative effects including hair loss, skin issues, and infertility (Masterjohn, 2012). AA deficiency also has a role in mental illness. AA is the most abundant fat found in the brain. Research has linked low levels of AA to schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. This is attributed to the AA leaking out of the cells. This is theorized to be the reason that MRIs of mentally ill patients show less brain matter (Campbell-McBride, 2010). Natasha Campbell-McBride has an interesting explanation in her Gut and Psychology Syndrome book. She points to research that blames the AA leakage on phospholipase A2 (PLA2). PLA2 is an enzyme whose role is to release AA from the cell. This enzyme becomes overactive in patients presenting with mental illness. She blames the enzyme overactivity on the pathogens allowed to enter the bloodstream from a damaged gut lining. She also states that chronic inflammation activates PLA2 (Campbell-McBride, 2010).
AA is actually responsible for creating cell junctions to protect us from pathogens. If there are pathogens causing AA to decrease in cell membranes then even more pathogens are going to be allowed to do damage to healthy cells. To make matters even worse we may be limiting AA in our diet which furthers our deficiency.
In conclusion, AA got a bad rap somewhere along the way. AA is essential to our health and without it we can have numerous health problems including immune dysregulation, skin issues, infertility, and even mental illness. We need to trust Mother Nature more in terms of what we put into our bodies. We need to trust that the ratios of nutrients in real foods are the ratios that will allow us to thrive as a species. They have been there for millions of years and have gotten us this far. Once we changed them it seemed we started running into health problems.
Chan, Marion Man-Ying (2010). Resolution of inflammation in murine auto-immune arthritis is disrupted by cyclooxygenase-2 inhibition and restored by prostaglandin e2-mediated lipoxin a4 production. www.pubmed.gov. Retrieved on September 4, 2012.
Diwan, Joyce (2008). Synthesis of Eicosanoids. www.rpi.edu. Retrieved on September 4, 2012.
Masterjohn, Chris (2012). Good Fats, Bad Fats: Separating Fact from Fiction. www.westonaprice.org. Retrieved on September 4, 2012.
Campbell-McBride, Natasha (2010). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Medinform Publishing; Cambridge, UK.
Kevin is owner of Genetic Potential Nutrition. He is a holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and strength coach. He works with people fighting illness, to competitive athletes. Check out his site at www.geneticpotentialnutrition.