Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that occur in our body tissues and fluids. They are composed of elongated chains of essential fatty acids (EFAs). So that means that our body is producing prostaglandins from the fats we consume (as our body is not able to produce fatty acids on its own - that’s why they’re called ESSENTIAL fatty acids).
Prostaglandins can have a PRO inflammatory and an ANTI inflammatory effect in our body and that depends on what kind of fats we are consuming. If you are lacking fatty acids or have too much inflammatory fat in our diet, this will impact your prostaglandin production and inflammation levels.
Migraine and other chronic pain conditions have been associated with inflammatory diseases. That’s why prostaglandins play such a big role here. They will also impact the female cycle in having « period poops » (diarrhea just before your menses) and/or uterine cramping aka painful periods.
There are 2 aspects here that I wanted to highlight:
The importance of eating enough fat and especially focus on a healthy omega 3-6-9 balance
Why it is counterproductive to take pain killers
As I said, prostaglandins can have a PRO or ANTI inflammatory effect and that depends a lot on our diet (of course if we get injured or sick, our body will also produce prostaglandins, but which kind it will produce is based on our dietary choices). The balance of Omega 3, 6 & 9 fatty acids is key for our body to manage the inflammation and anti-inflammation process. The problem in today’s world is that we don’t consume enough Omega 3 fatty acids, but we have an overflow of Omega 6 fatty acids. This is why it is so important to pay attention to avoiding processed fats such as canola, sunflower, cottonseed, peanut, or other processed Omega 6 oils. The quality of these oils has been altered and therefore, they are highly inflammatory. Especially EPA Omega 3 fatty acids become hard to find, because most of the sources now come from industrial production like farm-raised salmon or non-grass fed beef that contain much less Omega 3 than they used to have.
As a reminder, there are the 2 main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These are plentiful in fish and shellfish. Algae often provides only DHA.
Short-chain omega-3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). These are found in plants, such as flaxseed. Though beneficial, ALA omega-3 fatty acids have less potent health benefits than EPA and DHA. You'd have to eat a lot to gain the same benefits as you do from fish.
So you understand now why I always pray so much to eat fatty fish OFTEN!
Ok but back to the prostaglandins, there are 2 types of prostaglandins:
Pro-inflammatory: are made from saturated fats (butter, dairy, cheese, also found in meats)
are made from EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or fish oil, also found in grass fed beef
or DGLA (Dihomo gamma linolenic acid) which is an Omega 6 fatty acid, which is then turned into GLA = Gamma-linolenic Acid (Omega 6 sources as black current seed oil, evening primrose oil or borage oil)
Another thing to consider is that it might actually not be a lack of healthy fats in our diet, but a CONVERSION problem:
as always, if we are not breaking down our fats with appropriate digestive enzyme function and liver and gallbladder function, our body can’t absorb them
but our body also needs enzymes, amino acids, vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc
poor conversion can also be caused by genetics; diabetes; insulin resistance; inadequate protein, calories, or carb intake; lack of biotin, B6, riboflavin, calcium, or zinc; sugar; or (re)heated vegetable oils.
2. Why should you avoid painkillers and what do they have to do with all this?
Well, when we have let’s say too many PRO inflammatory prostaglandins, we experience pain like headaches, migraines, joint pain…. And what do most people do in that situation? Reach for pain killers - also known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
They include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), paracetamol and naproxen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not considered an NSAID, but it does have a similar effect. Many natural foods and herbs contain salicylates, which are aspirin-like substances that act similarly to NSAIDs (tomatoes and many berries are high in salicylates for instance - see more info here).
It is well known that NSAIDs can cause damage to the stomach, including ulcers, but they also mess up our microbiome.
There are also some studies in laboratory animals suggesting that while they do reduce peak inflammation, they prevent us from ever fully resolving inflammation, leaving us with chronic, persistent, low-level inflammation.
Aspirin or other NDSAIDs, steroids (or also alcohol) inhibit the prostaglandin process by reducing pain and fever, but at the same time suppressing the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and therefore they slow down our body's ability to heal. Our body needs to be able to inflame and anti-inflame to heal.