Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
December 21, 2009

Dear Mark: Arachidonic Acid

By Mark Sisson
57 Comments

I spend a lot of time highlighting the importance of omega-3 fatty acids and downplaying their poly cohorts, omega-6s. Of course, I do this for good reason. Western dietary patterns and modern agricultural practices have made omega-3s harder to come by and blown any semblance of omega-3/omega-6 dietary balance out of the water. As maligned as omega-6s are these days, however, they’re still essential fatty acids. Our bodies need them and can’t produce them on their own – straight and simple. The problem comes when we mistake emphasizing the omega imbalance in modern diets with disparaging omega-6 entirely. Although the Primal Blueprint promotes a healthy fatty acid balance – one that parallels that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors – I still get questions about omega-6s, particularly reservations about the role arachidonic acid (part of the omega-6 fatty acid family) plays in the PB.

Dear Mark,

While I totally agree with the importance and value of meat/eggs and vegetables, minus all grains and added sugars…my question is about the arachidonic acid (AA) found mostly in meat and egg yolks. It has been demonized by many, Barry Sears, etc., as the cause of all inflammation in the body. Is that a concern for us on the PB plan?

Arachidonic acid is both a product of the body’s natural linoleic acid conversion and, as the question notes, an existing (but modest) component of animal-based foods like egg yolk and meat – as well as human breastmilk. The particular beef with arachidonic acid revolves around its common conversion to omega-6 derived, “pro-inflammatory” eicosanoids, compounds (e.g. prostaglandins, prostacyclins, thromboxanes, leukotrienes, etc.) that play a role in the intercellular signaling that directs, among other key activities, neurological function and immune response – including inflammatory response. (Eicosanoids are also derived from EPA in the omega-3 family. These are considered anti-inflammatory.) Your proportion of omega-3 derived to omega-6 derived eicosanoids correlate for the most part with your dietary intake of omega-3s and 6s.

Already this correspondence shows that your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio has the most significant impact on your level of omega-6 derived eicosanoids and their inflammatory effects on your system. Consider that the average American has an omega ratio of 20:1, and that’s the ball game. Studies emphasizing the detrimental effects of AA generally focus on the isolated supplementation of AA rather than the impact of supplement when balanced with a correspondingly high intake of omega-3. Research that does gauge the impact of AA supplementation with a high omega-3 intake shows no significant cardiovascular impact. Invited analysis and commentary for the British Journal of Nutrition (which published the original study), citing a number of studies that show little to no appreciable effect of AA on many cardiovascular health and immune function markers, concluded (PDF) that “moderately increased arachidonic acid intake [designated as up to 1.5 grams or 1500 milligrams] is probably harmless in healthy adults.” Just for comparison sake, the average intake of dietary AA in the Western diet is estimated at 50-300 milligrams a day.

But there’s more reason for reassurance. Much of people’s AA content is likely determined by (and derived from) their high linoleic acid intake (in the forms of corn, soy and vegetable oils). Cut those out of your diet as the PB suggests, and you’re already ahead. As for direct AA dietary sources, chicken eggs weigh in at about 390 mg and 100 gram meat servings generally between 35-100 mg dependent in part on fat content (organ meat reach into the 150 mg range). In the context of a healthy omega ratio, the Primal Blueprint’s modest increase in direct dietary arachidonic acid doesn’t present a novel dietary risk as some (like Sears) would have your believe. Next, consider that grass-fed beef is lower in AA than feedlot beef (PDF). (Remember, it’s not just what you eat but what the cow/pig/chicken/duck/game animal/etc. on your plate ate before it got there. Stuff animals with omega-6 loaded feed and you’ll get meat loaded with forms of omega-6.) Add to this the protective (antioxidant, anti-cancer, pro-cardiovascular health) effects of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) present in grass fed meats and dairy – up to five times the CLA as you’ll find in grain-fed animals.

Next, there are the other mitigating factors of a Primal Blueprint diet. A healthy, nutrient-rich diet also has some effect on the prevalence of AA from linoleic acid conversion. Linoleic acid, the “parent” omega-6 compound, is broken down by the body into gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). From there, the conversion leads toward either arachidonic acid or dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), which is actually anti-inflammatory. Minerals like magnesium and zinc and vitamins like C, B3 and B6 appear to encourage the body to redirect GLA conversion toward DGLA instead of AA. Research shows it’s a more complicated picture – inflammatory and anti-inflammatory.

And if you’re a tea drinker, know that all the steeping and sipping curbs the metabolism of arachidonic acid.

Finally, as I mentioned before, it’s important to keep in mind that arachidonic acid isn’t the bogeyman that it’s made out to be. It comprises a necessary component of cellular membrane structure and supports everything from dermal integrity to muscular growth and repair. It’s no accident that arachidonic acid is present in breast milk. AA plays a critical role in brain development, and a whole host of research comparing AA-supplemented formula with non-supplemented formula underscores this connection. Likewise, AA supports continuing role in neurological health as demonstrated in studies involving older adults. When it comes to arachidonic acid, the general principle holds: it’s all about overall balance and healthfulness.

Thanks as always for the great questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

TAGS:  dear mark

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

57 Comments on "Dear Mark: Arachidonic Acid"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Grok
6 years 9 months ago

Very nice explanation Mark.

trackback

[…] Original post by Mark Sisson […]

Elizabeth @ The Nourished Life
6 years 9 months ago
Great information. The typical Western diet is the recipe for inflammation from many angles. The terrible omega-6/omega-3 ratio is just another part of the catastrophy (and perhaps a major part of it). It’s my personal belief that a lot of the minor substances that get blamed for inflammation (and thus heart disease, etc.) are less harmful when you switch to a more natural diet like the Paleo diet. Basically, if the bulk of your diet is from natural, whole foods and includes plenty of quality protein and saturated fats, a lot of so-called “harmful” substances are essentially neutralized. It’s when… Read more »
Icarus
Icarus
6 years 8 months ago

I agree. One reason I think saturated fat has such a bad rep is because people are looking at its effects in the context of a diet rich in grains and sugars, which can make a good food turn bad.

Andy Meacock
Andy Meacock
6 years 9 months ago

Great post Mark.

Johnny at The Lean Saloon
6 years 9 months ago
This topic isn’t easy to put into a post, but nicely done! I’ve always known that the ratio balance between O3 and O6 is the key, and therefore I use fish oil. But I don’t use fish oil indiscriminately. As often as I can, I eat grass-fed beef and pasture-raised animals. But I don’t do this all the time as access and economics don’t always favor them on the dinner plate every night. So on those days I eat traditional meats, I supplement with a few tablespoon of fish oil. Having a diet that’s abundant in greens and various colors,… Read more »
mikecheliak
6 years 9 months ago

I feel smarter every time I read a post on this site! As a student of life, I can say that this site is among my top three of all time for valuable, intelligent and important information. PLEASE…keep up the amazing work Mark…the value of the knowledge you pass along is beyond compare!

Thomas
Thomas
3 years 4 months ago

What are the other 2 sites, if you don’t mind me asking.

Shebeeste
Shebeeste
6 years 9 months ago

It’s not only pigs, chickens, cows, etc. that get fed on corn. I learned that farmed tilapia (which is most of it) is corn-fed, meaning its Omega-6 to Omega-3 balance is way off. Too bad, since it’s so inexpensive. I suspect that other farmed fish like salmon is the same way. That might be a good follow up topic, Mark.

Grok
6 years 9 months ago

He’s touched on this several times. Just do a search up top.

Salmon, bass, carp, catfish, cod etc… If it doesn’t say wild, assume it’s grain fed.

gigi
gigi
6 years 9 months ago

I’m not sure what the correct ratio is between 3 & 6. Could someone fill me in with this info. Since I’ve been strict on PB eating, I want to understand how much O3 I should take. I just purchased 3-6-9 and now I’m thinking that was a mistake. Thx

Johnny at The Lean Saloon
6 years 9 months ago

gigi, 3-6-9 oils are a good concept, but mostly for marketing.

Assuming we eat absolutely no fat in other areas of our diet, then this product would be very useful. But since the food industry provides an abundance of O6 (and O9), it’s better to spend your money on a quality O3 supplement.

Anita Gandolfo
Anita Gandolfo
6 years 9 months ago
I became concerned with AA because of my rather severe osteoarthritis. I was determined to get off NSAIDs and pain meds. I take fish oil and eat a lot of wild salmon and other fish. I eat only egg whites and beef is always grass fed–although I’ve been relying on bison lately. I have been off all meds for a couple of years from eating this way. A few months ago, my doctor checked my CRP (which is supposed to be a better indicator of heart issues than cholesterol). With 1.0 as the low end of the lab range, mine… Read more »
Lizzy
Lizzy
1 year 4 months ago

Thanks for posting your experience – I find it very helpful.

Jan Jones
Jan Jones
6 years 9 months ago

Mark,

Thanks for the explanation and helpful answer to my question. I feel relieved to know that the PB creates the balance needed. I am following PB guidelines for healthy eating and take fish oil daily but no Omega 6 supplements, like evening primrose oil, or combination essential fatty acids. No need to add any O6’s!

Thanks again for the great info.

Jan

Dave, RN
Dave, RN
6 years 9 months ago

What’s with the whole egg whites thing? I understand we’re to cook those, but not the yolk. Yet “in the wild” how many animals cook the white before sucking and egg down?
And Anita (or anyone), can you clue me in on what’s wrong with the yolk?
My deal here is I eat 2-4 raw eggs a day in my shake that I drink each morning. Yea, I know dairy isn’t exatly paleo, but it’s raw milk, usually goat, and there’s too much evidence (Westin Price Foundation) that says it’s great for you…

Jan
Jan
6 years 9 months ago

Try using Coconut milk instead of dairy. Works great. My shake is coconut milk,an egg, pumpkin, a little vanilla and sometimes 1/2 banana.

Icarus
Icarus
6 years 8 months ago
There’s nothing wrong with dairy unless you have an intolerance to either milk sugar (lactose) or milk protein (casein, maybe whey?). Which I assume you don’t, unless you have mysterious digestive problems after consuming it. So, feel free to drink up – milk is probably the only drink that truly improves on water, thanks to its high fat, protein, vitamin, and mineral content. It has a fair amount of sugar (the aforementioned lactose) but I think it’s worth including in a daily allowance of carbs. Coconut milk is perfectly fine, too, but even compared to raw, pasture-fed milk, it’s more… Read more »
Laurel
Laurel
4 years 11 months ago

A GI doc once told me that the whey proteins lactalbumin and lactoglobulin are the most common dairy allergens.

Derek
Derek
6 years 9 months ago

What I think is great is there are actually supplements out there that have AA in them to PROMOTE inflammation and give the appearance of a more ripped, vascular look in the bodybuilding world.

One such product is called “Hemodraulix” by supplement maker Axis Labs.

http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/axis/hemodraulix.html

They actually put AA in their formula along with Arginine to promote bloodflow + inflammation, increasing the look of your veins. Crazy.

Leander
Leander
3 years 4 months ago
I have been supplementing AA, via Hemodraulix, for years now. Granted, I also take Omega 3 supplements as well. Still, I never had any idea the AA might be harmful. I have a physical every year, and my doctor knows everything I take, and I have been perfectly healthy despite what alarmists like Dr. Sears might say. I have cycled the Hemodraulix because I noticed an unexpected effect. I had anticipated being extremely sore after workouts supplemented with AA. In my case, I actually found myself not sore at all, even after the most intense of workouts. That meant that… Read more »
Neil
Neil
6 years 9 months ago

I’d also add that AA is only a precursor molecule for other immune-regulating molecules, such as prostagladins and leukotrienes. Some prostagladins are pro-inflammatory while others are anti-inflammatory and down regulate the immune system, therefore it depends what your body converts the AA to.

Icarus
Icarus
6 years 8 months ago

It’s also worth noting that inflammation, like cardio, is only bad when it’s chronic.* The occasional inflammatory response to injury is necessary and part of the body’s healing system.

*Comparisons end there, though. Cardio is not necessary!

Ernie O'Malley
Ernie O'Malley
6 years 9 months ago

Hey Mark,

have you heared of Prof. Brian Peskin. He is researching on fatty acids. Especially PUFAs. He has great articles and especially videos and presentation on this stuff. Well worth checking it out: http://www.brianpeskin.com/video-audio.html

and here: http://progressive.uvault.com/pd1005/A4M091/SS3/player.HTM

Laura
Laura
6 years 8 months ago
Yes, Brian Peskin has me really thinking about this topic; turned upside down. Basically he says we get too much DAMAGED omega 6, which leads to cell wall damage (decreased cellular oxygenation, leads to cancer per Warburg) and, eventually cancer or other diseases. To counter all this we need pure, organic, undamaged omega 6 in a 2:1 ratio to omega 3. He stresses we don’t want to take the derivatives of these EFA’s because the body only converts, at most, 5% of the EFA to derivatives based on need. So, if you need the derivative your body will convert, and… Read more »
Karl Roberts
Karl Roberts
4 years 9 months ago
Brian Peskin IS a real scientist and only pharmaceutical companies including sites like quackwatch.com made him very “controversial”. Why?… because what Brian Peskin has to say is absolute right. People are starting to look after themselves more, which is less profit for the pharmaceutical companies. I have communicated with Brian Peskin via email many times and he had ALWAYS been there to answer any questions I may have. Because of Brian Peskin, I am able to maintain 7 to 8% bodyfat all-year-round and faster recovery ability due to PEO (Parent Essential Oil). As for marketing and promoting supplements, Mark Sisson… Read more »
trackback

[…] Maybe, and probably more likely, it’s the fact that omega-6 intake, especially linoleic acid (arachidonic acid intake was actually higher in grass-finished), was significantly higher in the grain-fed group than […]

trackback

[…] Related Posts… Dear Mark: Arachidonic Acid […]

trackback

[…] however, tilapia has far more omega-6 than the database would suggest, with most of it coming as arachidonic acid (which admittedly isn’t as problematic as excessive dietary linoleic acid). Overall, it’s a […]

trackback

[…] […]

Max@flavortogofast
4 years 9 months ago

so are all omega 6 fats created equal? aka should I watch my pasture raised turkey fat in take as well as my nut intake or are those more essential?

skunk1980
skunk1980
4 years 5 months ago

Actually, arachidonic acid may have little to do with ones intake of linoleic acid. All the same then, it probably isnt the boogieman that its sometimes made out to be.

See:

Increasing dietary linoleic acid does not increase tissue arachidonic acid content in adults consuming Western-type diets: a systematic review.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3132704/

Linoleic acid is associated with lower long-chain n–6 and n–3 fatty acids in red blood cell lipids of Canadian pregnant women.
http://www.ajcn.org/content/91/1/23.short

Glen Wise
Glen Wise
4 years 3 months ago
Dear Mark, I would like to begin by saying how helpful your article is. It amazes me how much information there is about arachidonic acid (AA) and it’s many actual and potential influences on our health. It further wows me at how every discipline looks at something slightly different. As an aspiring bodybuilder with asthma I’m concerned about the association of AA with the inflammatory response. To make a long story shorter, I am recovering from a severe case of lung inflammation attributed to several bodybuilding supplements along with cheap, farm-raised tilapia, and many eggs and egg whites. I would… Read more »
SueQ
2 years 10 months ago

Maybe find a really good holistic M.D. you can trust and work with him/her?
Good luck!

COPD Life Expectancy
4 years 2 months ago

Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite reason seemed to
be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware
of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

trackback
4 years 1 month ago

[…] Maybe, and probably more likely, it’s the fact that omega-6 intake, especiallylinoleic acid(arachidonic acid intake was actually higher in grass-finished), was significantly higher in the grain-fed group […]

trackback

[…] developement was the catalyst for The Organic Watergate. According to Jolie Root (nutritionist), ARA and DHA are both necessary for correct formation of the nerves, brain tissue, and retina of the […]

Casey
Casey
4 years 4 days ago

What about the effects of AA on the prostate?

Andreas
Andreas
3 years 1 month ago

Its oxidized fatty acids that cause oxidative stress to the cells, which leads to cancer.

Lipid peroxidation.

SueQ
2 years 10 months ago

Like your unequivocal reply.

trackback

[…] cognition. Second, the added PUFA in the industrial lard is almost entirely linoleic acid (not arachidonic acid), which the pigs obtain from the soy and corn in their diets and incorporate directly into their […]

Andreas
Andreas
3 years 1 month ago

Botchy explanation by someone who doesn’t understand the science.

Ratio in nature? Yea right!

Don’t touch anything processed and you wont have to worry about lipid peroxides from these foods; this includes fish oil.

SueQ
2 years 10 months ago

Like your unequivocal reply.

Jana
Jana
3 years 1 month ago

My complaint is the nightmare headaches I started getting after eating eggs. I love eggs and miss them so much. The headaches last 2 days are tor-tu-ous. I was wondering if the eggs from chickens fed completely non-grain sources would cause the headaches.

SueQ
SueQ
2 years 10 months ago

“Nightmare” headaches can be caused by many things: http://www.ctds.info/magnesium-migraine.html

trackback
trackback

[…] oil, grape seed oil and canola oil are bad for you also as they lead to inflammation through the arachidonic acid system in the body. Conversely flaxseed oil, omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) derived from fish oil are […]

gimpedbydoctors
gimpedbydoctors
2 years 7 months ago
I love your column and read it regularly, but his is a weak point in your argument and you should work on it: ” Linoleic acid, the “parent” omega-6 compound, is broken down by the body into gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). From there, the conversion leads toward either arachidonic acid or dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), which is actually anti-inflammatory. Minerals like magnesium and zinc and vitamins like C, B3 and B6 appear to encourage the body to redirect GLA conversion toward DGLA instead of AA. ” That reads as though people SHOULD avoid it, at least to my eye. How come nobody… Read more »
gimpedbydoctors
gimpedbydoctors
2 years 7 months ago

Eating fish is primal and makes everybody happy.

Duncan Grern
Duncan Grern
11 months 10 days ago
I suffer from Samter’s Triad which comprises asthma, nasal polyps and aspirin allergy. The root of this condition is believed to be a disturbance in the process of metabolizing AA. The natural aspirins in food (salicylates) depress COX1 and COX2 enzymatic function. These are part of the arachidonic acid cascade and if they don’t function properly, a ‘sideways shunt’ of the AA happens that results in more inflammatory metabolites. When the AA cascade is functioning properly you won’t have any symptoms of increased inflammation. However it is likely that supplementing with Aa enables the inflammatory route to some extent. Yes… Read more »
Duncan Green
Duncan Green
11 months 1 day ago

I would like to add an amendment to my previous comments. There is no scientific evidence that a low or non salicylate diet has any positive effect on Samters Triad. If you are suffering from this horrible condition then you don’t have to avoid sals in food (other than to manage itching). By restricting your diet in this way you are avoiding many delicious and healthy foods with (probably) no benefit to the underlying AERD.

I was wrong about that. :/

Good health.

Chris Walker
Chris Walker
8 months 15 days ago
I read on the Skeptical Nutritionist website that conversion of linoleic to AA is tightly controlled by enzyme availability. This would make sense because the body regulates most processes. Also, there was an experiment where people were dosed with large amounts of AA and nothing bad happened. I’m currently reading an article about how AA and linoleic are cytoprotective; directly converted by stomach mucosa “Fatty acid-mediated gastroprotection – Mandel KG”. There was also a study done in Mexico that showed stomach cancer was related to linoleic insufficiency..Unfortunately, stomach protection is based on the same inflammatory prostaglandins, which is why NSAIDs… Read more »
trackback

[…] Mark Daily Apple believes that a moderate amount of AA in eggs and meat are […]

trackback

[…] Arachidonic Acid | Mark’s Daily Apple – Great information. The typical Western diet is the recipe for inflammation from many angles. The terrible omega-6/omega-3 ratio is just another part of the … […]

trackback

[…] Arachidonic acid, a PUFA found in animal products often alongside palmitic acid, prevents palmitate-induced lipotoxicity. […]

trackback

[…] Arachidonic acid, a PUFA found in animal products often alongside palmitic acid, prevents palmitate-induced lipotoxicity. […]

wpDiscuz