Understanding Eicosanoids and Diet

What is the Zone?
The concept of maintaining drugs within a therapeutic zone is well known to physicians.  Below that therapeutic zone, the drug is ineffective, and above that therapeutic zone, the drug is toxic.  The same concept can be applied to the hormones generated by the food you eat.  There are two hormonal systems that are controlled by the diet.  These are eicosanoids and insulin.  Eicosanoids are controlled by the balance of the dietary intake of essential fatty acids, and insulin is controlled by the balance of protein to carbohydrate at every meal.  Moreover, there is a great deal of interaction between these two hormone systems. 

Maintaining these two hormone systems within appropriate zones that define a state of wellness is the goal of the Zone Anti Inflammatory diet.  Such a hormonal Zone is not some mystical place, since it can be defined by specific blood tests.  The benefits of maintaining the patient in the Zone is that silent inflammation will be decreased and blood flow increased, thus improving virtually every chronic disease condition.  The blood tests that define the Zone for the treatment of chronic disease are ultimately the same tests that can be used to define wellness.  The concept of evidence-based wellness™ is ideally suited for the physician, since it requires consistent blood monitoring of the patient to determine whether or not they are remaining well.

What are Eicosanoids?
Eicosanoids are hormones derived from long-chain essential fatty acids.  They represent the first hormones developed by living organisms some five hundred million years ago.  They are also the most powerful hormones, since they affect the synthesis of every other hormone in your body.  In a sense, eicosanoids can be considered as “super-hormones” capable of great health benefits (“good” eicosanoids) or great harm (“bad” eicosanoids), depending on which eicosanoid a cell produces.  Unlike typical hormones that are produced by a particular gland, every cell in your body is capable of producing eicosanoids.  In essence, you have about sixty trillion eicosanoid glands, and the goal of the Zone diet is to maintain an appropriate balance of the molecular building blocks of both “good” and “bad” eicosanoids in each cell.

The terms “good” and “bad” eicosanoids are simply operational terms, terms that describe very powerful, but opposite physiological actions generated by different eicosanoids.  Just keep in mind that the patient needs a balance of “good” and “bad” eicosanoids for optimal health. This is no different than talking about “good” and “bad” cholesterol.  If a patient had no “bad” cholesterol, he/she would die.  What patients need, though, is an appropriate balance between “good” and “bad” cholesterol to help reduce the risk of heart disease.  You can think of eicosanoids in a similar fashion, but realize that they’re vastly more important than cholesterol in terms of their impact on your overall health as shown in Table 1.

In fact, you can see from the list above that the “bad” eicosanoids appear to have very few redeeming characteristics, since many chronic diseases can be viewed as an excess of “bad” eicosanoid production.  Here are some examples of chronic diseases that result from an excess production of “bad” eicosanoids.

•  Alzheimer’s
•  Arthritis
•  Cancer 
•  Depression
•  Heart attack
•  Hypertension  
•  Stroke

Why not just eliminate all the “bad” eicosanoids so that you would never get a heart attack or cancer?  It’s not quite that easy.  Let’s take the example of the heart attack.  If you didn’t have enough “bad” eicosanoids, you would probably bleed to death, since you need some “bad” eicosanoids to form a clot that stops bleeding.  Of course, if you are producing too many “bad” eicosanoids your platelets will clot at the wrong time to stop blood flow. The same is true of high blood pressure, cancer, pain, immune disorders, and neurological diseases.  What the patient needs is an improved balance of “good” and “bad” eicosanoids, since most chronic diseases stem from an imbalance of eicosanoids, not a deficiency.

1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine
Although the role of eicosanoids in the human physiology is currently less well understood by most physicians, the importance of these hormones in chronic disease was recognized when the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for the initial discoveries of how they control virtually every physiological function, and how the wonder drug of the 20th century, aspirin, works by altering eicosanoid levels.  Eicosanoids include a broad number of subgroups, including the following:

•  Hydroxylated essential fatty acids
•  Leukotrienes
•  Lipoxins
•  Prostaglandins
•  Thromboxanes

Understanding the relationships of these hormones to the development of chronic disease and their effects on gene expression is one of the prime research areas in the biotechnology industry.

The balancing of these hormones is the goal of the Zone Lifestyle program.

Optimal Health Matrix
Both insulin and eicosanoids are ultimately controlled by the diet.  Although both hormonal systems are synergistic, their relative importance in the treatment of various chronic disease conditions is variable as shown in the Optimal Health Matrix.

As can be seen from this chart, apart from fat loss and type 2 diabetes, most of the health benefits of being in the Zone are derived from improved eicosanoid control. What is not quite as obvious is that the greater the eicosanoid influence on a chronic disease condition, the more the patient must supplement his/her diet with ultra refined EPA/DHA concentrates to demonstrate significant clinical benefits.  That’s because high-dose fish oil primarily influences eicosanoid levels.

Of course, by controlling both insulin and eicosanoids, simultaneously, the patient will achieve the full range of health benefits of the Zone Lifestyle.

Dr. Barry Sears, leading authority on the dietary control of hormonal response, author of the New York Times #1 best seller, The Zone, is a former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For more information about The Zone program call 1-800-404-8171 or visit  www.drsearszonefast.com.

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