Eating to heal

by Dr. Joseph Debé

The next time you suffer an injury think twice before you reach for aspirin or Advil. These non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs are effective at resolving pain and inflammation, but they can result in weakened connective tissue such as tendon, ligament and cartilage. 

There are many nutritional therapies that can speed healing and strengthen the injured tissue without harmful side effects. One dietary consideration is balance of fatty acid intake. Eicosanoids are a class of compounds produced throughout the body from fatty acids. The series of Eicosanoid produced depends on which fatty acids are present in the cell membranes. Dietary intake dictates your fatty acid composition. Arachidonic acid is the fatty acid precursor for the pro-inflammatory Series 2 Eicosanoids. The Series 2 Eicosanoids also increase pain, depress immune responses, and promote vasoconstriction, platelet aggregation and cell proliferation. These are all essential bodily processes. The problem is that the average American has too much inflammation, platelet aggregation, etc. because there are too much Series 2 Eicosanoids produced in the body. This is a consequence of consuming high arachidonic acid content foods: beef, lamb, pork, eggs, dairy products, shellfish, and organ meats. If you want to heal more quickly and suffer less severe and less frequent injury, then consume less of these foods (egg whites and non-fat dairy products are fine). 

Series 1 and Series 3 Eicosanoids are anti-inflammatory. Series 1 Eicosanoids are made indirectly from linoleic acid, which is found in corn, sunflower and safflower oils, nuts and seeds, and grains. Series 3 Eicosanoids are made indirectly from alpha linolenic acid, which is found in walnuts, pumpkin seeds and especially flaxseeds. Eicosapentaenoic acid is the direct precursor of the Series 3 Eicosanoids. It is found in algae and cold water fish. Most Americans have a relative insufficiency of Series 3 Eicosanoids due to lack of dietary precursors. 

Eicosanoid metabolism is further affected by a number of dietary factors. Eating foods containing trans fatty acids (hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is found in most baked goods, and oils which have been exposed to excessive light, heat or oxygen) will produce more inflammatory eicosanoids. So will eating relatively excessive amounts of carbohydrates. Production of the anti-inflammatory eicosanoids is dependent upon the presence of adequate levels of magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin C and folic acid. Alcohol and trans fats have an inhibitory effect. 

Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit the conversion of arachidonic acid into Series 2 Eicosanoids. As previously mentioned, these drugs have serious side effects. A number of natural compounds have similar activity without producing damage. These include vitamin E, zinc, selenium, bioflavanoids, ginger, curcumin, and boswellia. All of these are available in supplement form. 

Putting all this information into practical form results in the following guidelines to naturally reduce inflammation: 

1. Reduce your intake of arachidonic acid rich foods; 

2. Increase your intake of flaxseed oil or cold water fish; 

3. Reduce your intake of trans fatty acid containing foods, alcohol, and carbohydrates; 

4. Assure adequate intake of magnesium, zinc, folic acid and vitamins B6 and C; 

5. Supplement with the natural compounds that reduce arachidonic acid conversion to Series 2 Eicosanoids. 

This article has only discussed one diet related aspect of inflammation and healing. Other important considerations include antioxidant status, acid-base balance, vitamin and mineral adequacy, proteolytic enzymes, toxicity, allergenicity, and cortisol-DHEA ratios.