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The Hunger Project Bolen Report
Ohm Society
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Eicosanoid Balance and Essential Fatty Acids Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy The presence of life on earth is, to say the least, a fascinating subject of study. It seems to plod along, being the same for eon after eon, punctuated by transformational events. These transformational events create entirely new spaces — platforms for life to begin again, on which biology can redefine itself. Each platform occurs at that point when, apparently, no further progress is possible.

The greatest transformation was, of course, from inanimate to living: the creation of life. Without this transformation, nothing further was possible. The invention of living is a miracle which dwarfs all other wonders in the universe. Somehow, living material arose out of random chemical reactions, perhaps by chance, more likely by the hand of God.

This living material then coated itself, separating itself from that out of which it came. This coat is called a "cell membrane." With this cell membrane, virus-like particles gave birth to intelligent, mobile, one cell animals. These animals evolved to the ceiling of the space provided by the cell membrane and there life remained for billions of years; apparently life was stymied at this level and could go no further. Then came the next great transformation: multicellular life.

They must have tried incessantly before they finally got it right. A language was required: a compatible chemical language, with which two cells could speak to and understand each other. This chemical language would allow them to stick together and cooperate as one.

It may have been a matter of nothing more than chance, that day when two cells met at the local coffee house and discovered that — voila! — they spoke compatible languages. Sticking together allowed them to live and reproduce as one and to divide the tasks of living between themselves — a happy marriage. Cooperation replaced domination at the cellular level, a transformation which is only now trying to happen between humans. It was so successful that soon other cells were applying for membership in the Multicellular Club.

This little communication system, this compatible biochemical language, was a good idea, and when nature has a good idea she always keeps it. Therefore we, as multicellular animals, still have this complex, elegant method by which our cells speak to each other.

This language cells speak to each other, we call the "crines." A common example is the language of the "endo-crines," the injection of chemical messengers into the blood by cells, to request action be taken at a distant location in the body. A "crine" is a chemical messenger, preceded by some letters which denote the nature and purpose of the crine. A crine is one type of "hormone," a word coined in 1905 by Ernest Starling, from the Greek hormao, meaning to put into quick motion, to excite, or to arouse.

In the case of one cell speaking to its neighbor, the hormone messenger is call a "paracrine" literally a beside messenger. There are also "intracrines" and "autocrines," hormones which communicate within the same cell and hormones which are sent into the environment, but which return to the cell of origin.

In this discussion we are interested in paracrines, the hormonal language spoken between cells which are close together. These messages are created and destroyed quickly, analogous to the spoken word. The message is delivered, and it is over instantly. Another identical message may be sent, but the first one is destroyed in seconds, or fractions of a second.

The Eicosanoids

In human biochemistry, the hormonal paracrines are called "eicosanoids," (pronounced eye-kos-a- noids). These powerful, highly unstable, short-lived hormones are divided into two basic groups: the "good" and the "bad." (Wouldn't you know it?) Their characteristics are as follows.

"Good" Eicosanoids

  1. Slow intravascular clotting, helping prevent strokes and heart attacks
  2. Dilate blood vessels, delivering more fresh blood to organs and helping prevent high blood pressure
  3. Suppress inflammation, helping prevent over-reaction to allergens
  4. Control cellular proliferation, helping slow the growth of cancer

"Bad" Eicosanoids

  1. Speed intravascular clotting, predisposing to heart attack and stroke
  2. Suppress the Immune system, predisposing to infection
  3. Increase cellular proliferation, promoting the more rapid growth of cancer
  4. Create new blood vessels, serving to feed a cancer

It is a bit misleading to think of eicosanoids (or anything else) in terms of good and bad. As in the rest of reality, they balance each other, and it is just as "bad" for the balance to swing out of kilter in one direction as the other. Nevertheless, because the paradigm of the mind is opposites, i.e., the unconscious idea that everything which is real has an opposite, we must perceive good and bad, and we will have to live with the notion of good and bad eicosanoids.

Balancing the Eicosanoids

The game is to master the ability to maintain a balance of eicosanoids, so the good effects predominate. The first question which comes to mind is: why not put some good eicosanoids in a capsule and take two each day? With eicosanoids, it is not possible to use them as a supplement, because they are unstable molecules, designed to live a few seconds at most, and only in the milieu of the body. There will never be an eicosanoid pill similar to a vitamin pill. Billions of dollars have already been spent by the pharmaceutical industry in just such an effort, without results.

The secret to knowing how to keep eicosanoids in balance comes from a thorough understanding of essential fatty acid metabolism. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are necessary for life; that is why they are called "essential," for like the essential amino acids, life cannot happen without them, and yet the body cannot manufacture them.

As the essential fatty acids are metabolized in the body, they transform, eventually, into eicosanoids, also known as "prostaglandins." Other names for good and bad eicosanoids are: "prostaglandins one" and "prostaglandins two," abbreviated "PGE-1" and "PGE-2," for prostaglandins E-1 and prostaglandins E-2.

PGE-1 is the "good" eicosanoid. It is a phospholipid with the power to clear arteries of atherosclerotic plaque after a few injections directly into the artery, upstream from where the plaque formation is located. The reason we do not do this: PGE-1 is so unstable, it cannot be brought to market. Only under laboratory conditions can this procedure be done. PGE-1 must be used immediately after it is made, or it breaks down and is worthless.

Because PGE-1 is not stable, and because it is the single most powerful biological therapeutic agent known to science, we must learn to allow the body to make its own abundant supply of PGE-1, if we are to reap the tremendous benefits of the good eicosanoids. To that end, let me explain how PGE-1 and PGE-2 are made.

Here is a diagram of the synthesis of PGE-1 and PGE-2:

Image

Certain clinically applicable comments apply to steps one, three, three prime, and four. Let us look at each of those steps.

Step 1

It all begins with linoleic acid. This nutrient is abundant, present in food from animal and plant origin. It is practically impossible to eat food and be deficient in linoleic acid, the number one essential fatty acid. However, to be worth anything, linoleic acid must be activated, i.e., changed to the first activated EFA: gamma linolenic acid (GLA). This step requires an enzyme called "delta-6-desaturase," or "D-6-D."

Flax oil, a commonly used supplement, contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids compete with linoleic acid for D-6-D. Therefore if you supplement your diet by taking flax seed oil you slow down, at its source, the conversion of linoleic acid to the activated forms. Here are all the known factors which slow this reaction.

  1. June 25, 1998
  2. Aging (and thus lower supplies of D-6-D)
  3. Trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated fatty acids found in margarine and many processed ("junk") foods
  4. High-carbohydrate diet
  5. Disease: cancer, diabetes, viral infections
  6. Stress (mediated through cortisol and adrenalin)

This critical step (from linoleic acid to GLA), can be bypassed through direct supplement of your diet with GLA. GLA is contained in borage oil, evening primrose oil and black currant oil. For the best results, supplement with small amounts, meaning three to five drops per day. If you use large amounts, the initial good effects are reversed by the build up of arachidonic acid, later in this cascade of reactions.

Step 2

The conversion of GLA to DGLA proceeds automatically, and step two does not require consideration.

Step 3A

Steps 3A and 3B lie at the critical turning point of the metabolism of the EFAs. We want step 3A to predominate over step 3B, because it leads to PGE-1 and the good eicosanoids. In order for this to happen, we must have the following:

  1. A low insulin level
  2. A high glucagon level

The factor which determines whether PGE-1 or PGE-2 predominates is the balance between insulin and its balancing hormone: glucagon. If we are to have firm control of the process, so as to favor PGE-1, and thus continuous excellent health, we must understand how insulin and glucagon are made in the human body.

Insulin is made by the beta cells of the pancreas. The purpose of insulin is to facilitate the entry of glucose into cells throughout the body. The antagonist of insulin is glucagon, made by the alpha cells of the pancreas. Insulin promotes the creation of simple sugars from the liver, where the storage form is "glycogen," a kind of biological starch. This creation of freely circulating simple sugar (as glucose) is called "gluconeogenesis," literally "glucose new creation." Glucose can be made from protein, fat or glycogen (the complex carbohydrate storage form in the liver and muscles). While insulin promotes gluconeogenesis, glucagon inhibits it.

Carbohydrates dominate in the diet of many people who think they are doing a good thing for their health by avoiding protein and eating lots of carbs: bread, pasta and low fiber veggies (e.g. rice and potatoes). In this circumstance, the pancreas produces larger amounts of insulin to handle the carbs. This is called "hyperinsulinism," and the result is that Step 3B predominates over Step 3A with the production of arachidonic acid (AA).

AA automatically converts to PGE-2 and the bad eicosanoids. When this happens over and over, day after day, year after year, the results are immune suppression and predisposition to cancer and heart attack.

The only way to control the levels of insulin and glucagon in the body, and thus favor the production of PGE-1 over PGE-2, is through food selection.

Dr. Barry Sears, a Ph.D. biochemist, who has written a book about this subject, describes how it feels to have the prostaglandins (PGE-1 and PGE-2) balanced. He calls it living in the "Zone." By this term he means the same Zone to which athletes refer. In the Zone, performance is maximum — to the limit of ability. One is focused, and living is effortless. According to Dr. Sears, these athletes have achieved a perfect balance between PGE-1 and PGE-2. You can obtain Dr. Sears' book The Zone at (800) 346-2707.

In the Zone there is an experience of well-being, unequaled ability to concentrate, and a natural flow from appropriate thought to effective action. There is no illness in the Zone, because the immune system is full of power and on full-scale alert. There is little need for sleep; spontaneity is natural; good humor is present; relationships with others flow easily. Prolonged parking in the Zone prevents and reverses degenerative disease. Clogged arteries are cleaned out, and sometimes, apparently, cancer disappears.

These are results worth going for. The hitch is that going for them requires responsible management of the type, amount and timing of one's food intake. This is exactly what people do not want to hear. Why? It places responsibility where it belongs: personal food selection.

In the area of nutrition, never have so many said so much, knowing so little. Most people have tried several types of fad diets, ultimately becoming disappointed. People who are willing to be responsible for their health, who have thought about and read about the issue, know intuitively that food selection is the most important aspect of health. People are, therefore, paying attention, and when the "experts" speak about nutrition, these people are listening. If the experts advise a diet of rice, potatoes and cardboard, these good-intentioned people line up to buy it.

Paleo-pathology

Let us look at the facts. Skeletal remains demonstrate the remarkable change in stature which occurred when Cro-magnon man invented agriculture. Prior to agriculture, human beings were tall, about as tall, on average, as we are now. Then came agriculture and with it the production of abundant supplies of grains and cereals, items which were rare prior to agriculture.

Man shifted from a mixed diet of meat and vegetable food sources, which were hunted and gathered, to a diet composed almost entirely of cereal and grain. Height plummeted by about one foot and did not begin to recover until 200 years ago, when animal husbandry made it possible for people to have a bit of protein in their diet on a regular basis.

Egyptian Mummy Evidence

There are literally thousands of mummies left over from the age of the Pharoes, not just a few as you probably thought. Extensive studies have been performed on the bodies of these people who lived out their lives in agricultural society. When compared to bones from people from hunter gatherer societies, they demonstrate no clear difference in degenerative joint disease, but a clearly increased incidence of infection.

Hunter gatherers lived longer, and more of their children survived childhood, evidenced by the fact of fewer children found in their burial grounds. Another difference noted is in the rate of tooth decay, far more prevalent in agriculturalists. The diet in ancient Egypt was a modern nutritionist's heaven: fruits, vegetables, stone ground whole wheat bread, honey as well as olive, safflower, flaxseed and sesame oils, and only occasionally meat.

Heart disease was well-known in ancient Egypt and was commonly mentioned in their literature. Atherosclerosis is a common finding in mummies. Obesity, particularly abdominal obesity, was well-known as was extensive dental disease and parasitic infestation. It may have been good for society as a whole to develop agriculture. It allowed people to live in large cities, to devote their lives to learning and the arts rather than chasing food around. However, what is good for society as a whole may not be good for members as individuals, then or now. The Egyptian diet, the same sort of diet now considered perfect by conventional wisdom — a high-complex carbohydrate diet — caused a devastating decline in health in agricultural societies. Because we have the same biochemistry and physiology as our ancestors of a few thousand years ago, it stands to reason that we will not fare any better on this diet.

Only the individual who thinks for him/herself is going to survive the experts' advice and live a long and healthy life. The experts have been telling us for forty years to cut back on fat intake. Many people have done this to lose weight. Here are the results: in forty years the average percent of calories consumed as fat has fallen from 41% to 35%; in the same time period the number of people overweight has increased from 25% to 33%. How can this be? Weight gain is a straight proposition of number of calories consumed minus number of calories burned off in activity. People are eating more calories, but using carbohydrate sources for these calories. Ironically, many people are eating this way in an effort to lose weight, be more healthy and live longer. Meanwhile, the studies continue to pour in reporting that health and longevity decrease as the number of calories consumed and body weight increase.

The correlation between increasing levels of serum insulin, which goes up in response to the "healthy" high-complex carb diet, and the rate of coronary artery disease (CAD), is clear. As insulin goes up, so does the rate of CAD. Furthermore, if the disease is studied in terms of one-, two- or three-vessel disease, the number of arteries involved climbs steadily, in step with increasing serum insulin.

These studies force us to look again at what we believe about proper nutrition. What must happen for maximum health is the development of nutritional habits which lead to balancing of insulin and glucagon so that the most powerful hormones in the body, the eicosanoid prostaglandins, PGE-1 and PGE-2, are balanced. This requires attention to the amount of protein consumed in relationship to the amount of carbohydrate.

I believe that we must rely on the experience of hunger to tell us when to eat. However, we cannot rely on the experience of hunger to tell us what to eat until after the addiction to carbohydrate is overcome. To overcome the addiction to carbs requires the intentional balancing of protein and carbohydrate. Your appetite must be satisfied, or you will continue to suck down the carbs.

I also believe that we can afford to let the chips fall where they may in regard to fat. Fat comes associated with carbs and protein, so if we eat those items we are going to get essential fatty acids, and that is all we need. Despite all the hysteria about the importance of a low-fat diet, fat has nothing to do with the balancing of insulin and glucagon and the avoidance of hyperinsulinemia. Fat does not make you fat. Calories make you fat. Fat is the storage form of excess calories and the body will convert excess carbs to fat. As Dr. Barry Sears says, it is simple-minded and against common experience to believe the adage: "If no fat passes my lips, there will be no fat on my hips."

So, how much protein do you need? That is highly variable. For the average seventy-kilogram man at the average activity level, seventy grams per day, or even half that, is enough to sustain life, but insulin/glucagon, PGE-1/PGE-2 balance will not be optimal unless that protein is balanced correctly to carbohydrate intake at a 7:10 ratio.

A sedentary individual needs less protein, a body-builder needs more on those days he or she pumps iron. There is no hard and fast rule. If you consume so much protein you get a headache, that is definitely too much. If you consume so little you feel weak, that is definitely too little.

The U.S. government, which has an opinion about everything, has lowered its estimate from the old one gram per kilogram to around 50-60 grams per day for the seventy-kilogram man. When we say so and so many grams per day, that does not mean you should wait until bedtime and then eat exactly that much. The pancreas does not do a calculation at the end of the day and plan its insulin/glucagon output for the next day. Insulin and glucagon are made on a moment by moment basis based on circulating glucose and amino acid levels. Therefore each meal should be properly balanced 7:10, protein to carbs, even more protein with exercise, and less when you are being a couch potato.

If you balance your food intake consistently, at every meal, with ten grams of carbs to every seven grams of protein, your weight should, in time, take care of itself, provided you are not stuffing yourself for psychological reasons. If you eat because you are hungry and you stop eating when you are no longer hungry, that should, eventually, do the job. You will feel more satisfied on less calories, if you have the proper proportion of protein and if you let go of fat phobia. However, if eating is your substitute for sex, or what you do to avoid boredom, that is another story.

People who are very obese did not get that way overnight, and they should not try to drop weight overnight. The safest and most long-lasting weight loss comes with correct eating, not fanatical starvation, appetite suppressants, or fad diets. No one should have to suffer to lose weight. Those who do suffer to lose weight will gain it back, e.g., Oprah Winfrey.

Dyslipidemia

For those people with an apparent imbalance in their fat metabolism, with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, this approach works also. Balancing food intake will bring these lab studies into the normal range much better than interfering with fat metabolism by the use of dangerous synthetic drugs like Mevacor, which are statistically associated with markedly increased accident, suicide and homicide rates! What the body does with excess carbs is convert them to fat stores in the body, using the circulation as a storage site.

Advice For Vegetarians

People who are vegetarians, particularly strict vegetarians, are especially susceptible to protein deficiency. However, a diet balanced in carbs and protein can easily be had by paying attention to sources of protein. The body does not know where the protein comes from, it only knows if there is too little or too much. Vegetable sources are just as good as, and often better than, animal sources.

My favorite source of protein is soy powder. It is ninety percent protein, rich in the isoflavones which are proven anticarcinogenic substances. The ten percent is made up of bromelain and lecithin. This food of the gods comes from a company named "Falcon" at (408) 462-1280. If your organic grocer does not carry it, ask them to call that number and order it.

I mix, with one-half rice milk and one-half filtered water, the amount of protein powder which equals about seventy percent of the weight of the carbs I eat with any particular meal. Put it all in a bottle and shake vigorously. If you are obese, and you want to lose weight, have your shake for breakfast and lunch and then allow yourself solid food at night. Drink whatever it takes to satisfy your appetite, but not more. At night, eat only what it takes to satisfy your appetite, but not more. Engage in this program only after consulting your physician. Of course, you can be more conventional and simply eat tofu, which is also a soy bean product. Unless you are eating at home, you will do well to carry your protein powder or tofu with you, as most restaurants are not supplying these items.

Doctors who can best advise you about your intake of essential fatty acids practice nutritional medicine.

Sources

  • Reaven GM Role of insulin resistance in human diabetes. Diabetes 37:1595-1607, 1988.
  • Kaplan NM The deadly quartet: upper body obesity, glucose intolerance, hypertriglyceridemia, and hypertension Arch Int Med 149:1514-20, 1989.
  • Karhapaa P, et. al Isolated low HDL cholesterol, an insulin resistant state Diabetes 43:411-17, 1994.
  • Bjorntorp P, et. al The effect of physical training on insulin production in obesity Metabolism 19:631, 1970.
  • Rizza RA, et. al Production of insulin resistance by hyperinsulinemia in man Diabetologia 28:70-75, 1985.
  • O'Dea K Marked improvement in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in diabetic Australian Aborigines after temporary reversion to traditional lifestyle Diabetes 33:596-603, 1984.
  • Baird I Safety of liquid-protein diets Lancet 1;1979:618


The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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