By James J. Dinicolantonio, PharmD
The term “inflammation” is used in so many different ways that the role of chronic inflammation in accelerating degenerative processes remains largely overlooked.
Endless advertisements tout drugs that temporarily relieve localized pain.
Few realize that normal aging ignites low-level inflammation that causes or contributes to virtually every chronic disease.1-4
Most readers of Life Extension Magazine® take definitive steps to reduce their inflammatory burden. This includes avoiding toxic foods and supplementing with curcumin, fish oil, vitamin D, and other nutrients that have specific inflammation-reducing properties.
This article describes published scientific findings as to how gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and healthier diets can suppress chronic inflammatory reactions.
Inflammation seems to be the buzzword these days, and for good reason. Unhealthy dietary patterns contribute to today’s inflammation epidemic.5 Getting at root causes of chronic inflammatory disorders can play a major role in achieving maximum longevity and optimal healthspan.
Healthy fats such as gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and omega-3s work by several pathways to reduce the dangers of inflammation throughout the body.
What is Inflammation?
Acute inflammation is beneficial, as it allows for the healing of a cut or wound, which, if left uncontrolled, could lead to infection. Once inflammation is no longer necessary, the body has mechanisms that turn it off.
The body uses two particular fats to “turn on” and “turn off” inflammation:
An omega-6 fat called arachidonic acid forms necessary pro-inflammatory substances like prostaglandin E2.
Omega-3 fats produce anti-inflammatory substances that bring the overall state of inflammation into balance.
Consuming too many omega-6 fats—while not eating enough omega-3s—contributes to uncontrolled systemic inflammation, which can cause chronic degenerative illnesses associated with pathological aging.
One way the body controls inflammation is by balancing anti-inflammatory substances from omega-3s and pro-inflammatory substances from omega-6 fats.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of GLA
- GLA is an anti-inflammatory compound that is found in very small amounts in some leafy greens and nuts, while the pro-inflammatory fats linoleic acid and arachidonic acid are present in ample amounts in vegetable oils and chicken, and eggs and meat, respectively.
- Chronic inflammation throughout the body contributes to numerous diseases.
- Supplementing with GLA may reduce chronic low-grade inflammation.
Understanding Dietary Fats
For optimal health, we must ingest both omega-3 and omega-6 fats. While necessary in moderate amounts, most Americans overconsume omega-6-rich foods, while they underconsume foods that provide EPA and DHA.
Omega-6 fats are known for their pro-inflammatory properties.
But not all omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory. Of particular interest is the omega-6 fat GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), which has remarkable anti-inflammation mechanisms.
GLA is found in trace amounts in some nuts and green leafy vegetables. The body can make small amounts of GLA from linoleic acid. As a result of this small amount of production by the body, GLA has been called a conditionally essential nutrient.6,7
- Xia S, Zhang X, Zheng S, et al. An Update on Inflamm-Aging: Mechanisms, Prevention, and Treatment. J Immunol Res.2016;2016:8426874.
- Franceschi C, Campisi J. Chronic inflammation (inflammaging) and its potential contribution to age-associated diseases. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci.2014;69 Suppl 1:S4-9.
- Franceschi C, Valensin S, Lescai F, et al. Neuroinflammation and the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease: the search for a pro-inflammatory phenotype. Aging (Milano). 2001;13(3):163-70
- .Lencel P, Magne D. Inflammaging: the driving force in osteoporosis? Med Hypotheses. 2011;76(3):317-21.
- Seaman DR. The diet-induced proinflammatory state: a cause of chronic pain and other degenerative diseases? J Manipulative Physiol Ther.2002;25(3):168-79.
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Monograph. Altern Med Rev.2004;9(1):70-8.
- Kapoor R, Huang YS. Gamma linolenic acid: an antiinflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. Curr Pharm Biotechnol.2006;7(6):531-4.