Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids
Most people have probably heard of the two major classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) – the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Called “essential” fatty acids because the human body is not capable of producing them on its own, the human body nonetheless requires a steady stream of fatty acids to maintain brain, muscle and skin health.
It has long been known that PUFAs play fundamental roles in many cellular and multicellular processes, including inflammation, anxiety, immunity, and neurotransmission – although the biochemical mechanisms and beneficial effects are yet to be fully understood.
Because we don’t produce these fatty acids, humans must rely on foods in our diet to supply these beneficial compounds. The typical western diet often contains high levels of omega-6s but very low levels of omega-3s – which results in deficiencies of these important polyunsaturated fat molecules. Researchers say fatty acid molecules play critical roles with inflammation in the body.
Many people supplement their diets with products like fish oils and krill oils to ensure they’re getting their recommended daily intake of omega-3s. Interestingly, the endocannabinoid system is naturally found in the human body, and is directly related to PUFAs.
The Human Endocannabinoid System
Omega-3 fatty acids are present in certain foods such as flaxseed and fish, as well as dietary supplements such as fish oil. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are two of the most important polyunsaturated major fatty acids. Consuming both directly from foods and/or dietary supplements is the only practical way to increase levels in the body.
The ECS includes G-protein coupled receptors, namely CB1 and CB2, their endogenous lipid ligands (endocannabinoids), and enzymes that regulate their biosynthesis and degradation. However, endocannabinoids – or the body’s own natural versions of the chemical compounds found in the cannabis sativa plant – are actually derived from polyunsaturated fats like EPA – and they transmit vital information to other cells.
Fatty Acids as “Bliss” Molecules?
Fatty acids are primarily stored in the plasma membrane of cells and can be converted to different anti-inflammatory properties. For example, the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) – also known as the “bliss molecule” – is a fatty acid neurotransmitter that signals through both cannabinoid receptors and regulates physiological processes in both the brain and surrounding muscle and tissues.
Certain endocannabinoids play important roles in the regulation of appetite, mood, metabolism, immune system, pain management, reproduction, memory, sleep and more. Several new studies reveal the cascade of chemical reactions that converts omega-3 fatty acids into a previously unknown class of other fatty acids called lipid metabolites or epoxides, shown to have potent anti-inflammatory effects – but without the psychotropic high.
DHEA also protects against cancer, chronic pain and inflammation – as well as brain health and eye health.
Endocannabinoids Help Immune Function
In a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered an enzymatic pathway that converts omega-3-derived endocannabinoids into more potent anti-inflammatory molecules that predominantly bind to the receptors found in the human immune system.Their findings demonstrate how omega-3 fatty acids can produce some of the same medicinal qualities as cannabis, but without the psychotropic effect.
Researchers found that these newly discovered chemical compounds known as ethers that are comprised of 3-membered rings) display potent anti-inflammatory effects. These were achieved through CB2 activation by inhibiting the production of inflammatory biomarkers, while simultaneously increasing production of anti-inflammatory cells.
In addition to the anti-inflammatory effects, the compounds (“epoxides”) were also found to help prevent or slow the growth of cancer cells. Finally, the endocannabinoid epoxides were also found to the dilate blood vessels in the coronary arteries of cows (decreasing blood pressure) and regulate blood clotting and clumping – which inhibits strokes and heart attacks.
Because these newly discovered omega-3 endocannabinoid epoxides are found at concentrations comparable to those of other endocannabinoids, researchers concluded that they are expected to play critical roles during any sort of inflammation in the body. This breakthrough is critical in the development of therapeutics for neuroinflammatory and cerebrovascular diseases in the future.
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