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Essential Fatty Acid Testing

“Inflammation and fatty acid ratios go hand in hand”

The headline in Time Magazine (March 22, 2004) stated: The Secret Killer: The surprising link between inflammation and heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. Inflammation is an under-tested major marker of overall health and dictates one’s capacity to develop chronic disease. Inflammation is largely linked to essential fatty acid ratios within the body.

There are two essential fatty acid pathways in the body: omega 3 and omega 6. The relationship between omega 3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the omega 6, arachadonic acid (AA) is particularly important as the ratio of these two fatty acids are an excellent marker of inflammation.

Adequate levels of omega 3 fatty acids and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and EPA in particular have proven to be protective against heart disease. In addition, a healthy ratio of AA to EPA has been associated with improvements in a wide variety of inflammatory conditions like: rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, diabetes, skin conditions and asthma. Many cancers also benefit from lowered ratio of AA to EPA.

Important facts regarding essential fatty acids:

  • The omega 6 pathway contains arachidonic acid (AA) which is a precursor to inflammatory prostaglandin 2 cascade.
  • The omega 3 fatty acid pathway contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). EPA and AA compete for the same enzyme systems in the body. EPA to make anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and AA to make inflammatory prostaglandins.
  • EPA represents omega 3 status and AA represents omega 6 status in the body. Thus, inadequate omega 3 intake coupled with excessive dietary intake of omega 6 can result in an elevated AA to EPA ratio. Dr. Barry Sears, author of The Anti-Inflammation Zone calls the ratio the Silent Inflammation Profile or SIP.
  • Humans evolved on a diet of approximately 1:1 AA to EPA. The average North American diet consist of over 10:1 of AA to EPA. In other words, most people consume more than 10 x more inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids than they require. – Biomed Pharmacotherapy 2002: 56; 365-379.

An elevated ratio of AA to EPA increases the risk of the following diseases:

Disease Reasoning
Heart Disease According to the 1994 Lyon Heart Study, a 4 to 1 ratio in the diet (Mediterranean Diet) was associated with a 70% decrease in cardiovascular mortality post heart attack when compared to a 14 to 1 ratio consumed from the American Heart Association diet.
– Circulation 1999; 99:779-85
Lung Cancer A lowered ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is associated with reduced invasion potential of human lung cancer cells
– carcinogenesis 23005 Jan 20
Breast Cancer Fatty acid levels in breast adipose (fat) tissue support the hypothesis that omega 6 to omega 3 balance plays a role in breast cancer
– Int J Cancer 2002; 98:78-83
Colorectal Cancer A 2.5 to 1 ratio is associated with decreased colorectal cancer cell proliveration while a 4 to 1 ratio showed no benefit.
– Cancer Prev 1995; 4:231-7
Asthma A 10 to 1 ratio is associated with exacerbation of methylcholine induced asthma symptoms while a 5:1 ratio was associated with improved symptoms
– Biomed Pharmacotherapy 2002: 56; 365-379
Diabetes A 20 to 1 ratio is associated with increased incidence of diabetes whereas a 6 to 1 ratio is associated with decreased incidence of diabetes.
– Biomed Pharmacotherapy 2002: 56;365-379
Rheumatoid Arthritis A 2 or 3:1 ratio is associated with a reduction in arthritis symptoms
– Biomed Pharmacotherapy 2002: 56; 365-379

The research cited above supports the notion that measuring essential fatty acid status, and the ratio of AA to EPA in particular, is an excellent means of assessing health status in the absence of overt disease.