Omega 3-6 Fatty Acid Balance Changes Gene Expression

Researchers have discovered that omega fatty acids can alter gene expression and boost immunity, explaining the potent effect of omega fatty acids seen in studies. Consumption of a diet consisting of omega fatty acid ratio of 2:1 (omega 6: omega 3) was found to alter gene expression after five weeks in 27 study participants.

Lack of omega 3, 6 fatty acid balance, found in the typical Western diet, may explain soaring rates of allergy, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and other inflammatory diseases. The research study, conducted by Floyd Chilton and colleagues, was initiated to seek out the effects of eating a diet that more closely resembles that of our human ancestors, and the expression of inflammatory pathway genes. The scientists discovered widespread changes in gene expression associated with omega 3-6 balance.

Increased consumption of omega 6 fatty acids has occurred over the past century. The authors write, “Over the past 100 years, changes in the food supply in Western nations have resulted in alterations in dietary fatty acid consumption, leading to a dramatic increase in the ratio of…polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in circulation and in tissues.” Consuming large amounts of omega 6 fatty acids and less omega 3 fatty acids had already been implicated in promoting inflammation and disease, as occurs in a typical Western diet.

The group of study participants was placed on a controlled diet for one week. For the remaining four weeks, they were given fish oil and borage oil. Markers of inflammatory gene expression were measured before and after the five-week study, showing that a proper balance of omega 3-6 fatty acids can alter gene expression.

The researchers found that leukotriene expression decreased by thirty-one percent. Leukotrienes are mediators in the body that promote inflammation. Leukotriene inhibitors are popular drugs used to treat asthma. Omega 3-6 balance inhibited gene expression after one week of a controlled diet and four weeks of omega 3-6 supplementation.

The study also showed that balancing omega 3-6 fatty acid consumption decreased the expression of proinflammatory cytokines, as well as reduction of a signaling gene for a protein called PI3K, which also promotes inflammation. P13K is also thought to be an important mediator in the development and progression of cancer, autoimmune diseases and allergy.

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in flax and fish oils, also known as PUFA’s. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in meat and vegetable oils. The authors concluded, “These data reveal that PUFA may exert their clinical effects via their capacity to regulate the expression of signal transduction genes and genes for proinflammatory cytokines”.

J. Biol. Chem., Vol. 284, Issue 23, 15400-15407, June 5, 2009

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