Thursday, September 21, 2017

Should I Take a GLA Supplement?

Inline_GLA_09.21.17Recently, a reader inquired about gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and inflammation. Is GLA everything it’s made out to be? Is it something all of us should add to our diets? Can we obtain it through real foods, or do we need to rely on supplements? There’s certainly a lot of hype about GLA’s ability to heal chronic inflammation and even to facilitate an easier transition into menopause (something I’ll cover more in a follow-up post). For today, let’s take a closer look at GLA and the role it may play in anti-inflammatory nutrition.

Quick review of inflammation here… Inflammation might seem like the root of all peril, and for many of us struggling with inflammatory conditions, it’s hard to think otherwise. However, we also recall that it exists to protect us. A little acute inflammation helps the body to heal from injury. It brings blood flow to the area of injury or pain as a protective mechanism. The blood vessels become more permeable, thus allowing the plasma and leukocytes to flow through the vessel walls, and into the injured area where they help the body to heal. The area becomes warm, swollen and painful. This is all necessary in order for the body to repair itself.

However, like any extreme response, inflammation can become chronic and harmful. These days many people are struggling with chronic inflammation in some capacity. It’s all part of the stress overload, the typical American diet, the lack of sleep, a lack of outdoor time, poor gut health, insufficient vitamin D, rampant overtraining—or (alternatively) being too sedentary, working too hard, feeding fatty acid imbalances, absorbing environmental toxins, etc., etc. This kind of chronic inflammation can lead to serious health conditions like painful arthritis, heart disease, troublesome skin conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, and so forth.

There are many ways to fight chronic inflammation, including promoting antioxidant intake and fatty acid balance. I’ve written about foods and supplements to fight inflammation before. But today I thought I’d explore GLA in particular.

What Exactly is GLA?

GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that’s both converted in the body (in a series of LA to GLA to AA) and is found in dietary sources—most notably borage oil, black currant seed oil, and evening primrose oil (and a genetically-modified version of safflower oil). It’s also found in whole foods like hemp seeds and spirulina, organ meats, and human milk.

Dietary GLA is associated with higher blood levels of dihomo GLA (DGLA), the elongation product of GLA and a potent anti-inflammatory fatty acid in its own right. DGLA’s own eicosanoids (signaling lipids) can out-compete AA’s generally pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. (PDF)

What Does Science Say about GLA?

The science surrounding GLA benefits is a bit contradictory (like we haven’t heard that before). Research reveals both benefits and non-benefits, as well as some contraindications and side effects. Here are some of the issues I took a look at with regard to GLA use.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

In this recent study, adding evening primrose oil with a fish oil decreased inflammation and resulted in significant clinical improvement with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. (Would it have been effective without the fish oil?) In a review of 22 studies, GLA reduced pain, reduced intensity, and improved disability associated with RA. Apparently dosage makes a difference as well. GLA doses equal to or higher than 1400 mg/day showed benefit in the alleviation of rheumatic complaints, whereas lower doses (approximately 500mg) were ineffective. When using GLA for RA symptoms, it can apparently take several months to feel the benefits.

Immunomodulation

GLA has been studied for its immunomodulatory properties as well. GLA improved overall sciatic nerve function following a crush injury in lab rats. GLA also showed 1,000 times stronger immunomodulating activity than muramyldipeptide (a a common immunomodulator). On the contrary, in a study done on patients with acute lung injury, twice daily GLA supplementation did not improve any clinical outcomes.

Skin Conditions

GLA has been shown to help with skin conditions such as eczema and keratosis pilaris, and even acne. These researchers found that small and large does of evening primrose oil helped improve atopic dermatitis in children.

However, I found research surrounding this to be contradictory. Some studies show no changes in eczema with the use of GLA containing oils. Investigators reviewed 27 studies and concluded that borage oil and evening primrose oil didn’t have a substantial effect on eczema. Improvements experienced were similar to placebo. So there you have it—more mixed results.

Hormonal Health

Finally, GLA is often taken for women’s hormonal health issues and for labor and delivery purposes—including breast tenderness, cyclical acne, depression, menopausal and premenstrual cramping, cervical ripening, and labor inducing.

However, there hasn’t been significant science to back  up these claims. Anecdotally, GLA (particularly in the form of evening primrose oil) has been used for female reproductive health for centuries. The symptoms that seem to improve the best from GLA use are breast tenderness, depression, irritability, swelling, and bloating from fluid retention.

A Few Words of Caution…

With regard to evening primrose and borage oil, gastrointestinal issues can occur during short-term use. During long term use, there was a potential risk of inflammation, thrombosis, immunosuppression, as well as increased bleeding when on blood thinners or Phenothiazines. Those with seizure disorders should avoid GLA supplementation, as should pregnant women. These are some serious implications that I would keep in mind, but I’d also discuss GLA supplementation with your doctor if you’re on any kind of pharmaceutical medication, as a number of drug interactions may be possible.

Reported side effects include headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, and loose bowels. In animal studies, GLA was reported to decrease blood pressure. More than 3000 mg has been shown to be pro-inflammatory, so be careful on the dosing, and don’t take more than you need.

Finally, many experts particularly caution against borage oil, which may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are toxic to the liver.

Should I Buy a Supplement?

Although GLA is anti-inflammatory in nature and necessary for the body, upping anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid consumption from wild caught fish or a quality fish oil supplement is still of utmost importance. Some research indicates that intake of omega-3s can encourage the conversation of supplementary GLA to DGLA.

I would increase consumption of wild fish and organ meats in preference to purchasing a seed oil—or at least make sure I did both if I was going to add a GLA supplement. If you do decide to go that route, I can’t stress quality enough—cold-pressed, hexane-free, dark-bottled varieties are available and worth the added cost. Try it out, see if you notice a benefit, and make your own assessment.

That’s it for me, folks. I’d love to hear your experiences with GLA supplementation for inflammatory conditions, and I’ll be back with more on GLA sources for women’s health in the coming weeks. Thanks for stopping by today.

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Thoughts On A Thursday

I think my sister started “Thoughts On A Thursday.” Or maybe it was someone else’s phrase? Nevertheless, her random thoughts are my favorite posts of hers. (And I like sharing my own too!)

Toast.

Whenever I have a cold breakfast (smoothie, yogurt, etc.), I crave hot buttered toast to go with it. In fact, I think in general, I like to have something hot with every meal. I prefer my salads with a hot protein on top, too. It makes me think about this post on Gina’s site about Ayurvedic nutrition. I do believe our bodies (loosely) have different needs and cravings. (I think I’m a Vata, based on the activity and energy descriptions and what foods make me feel good.)

Apple Watch Series 3.

Did you see the new Apple Watch has LTE service so you can receive calls and texts while out on a run?! I am soooo tempted to upgrade to it, but at a few hundred dollars and with a $10 a month service charge, I think I have convinced myself not to. If I could add this to my current watch or if there wasn’t a monthly fee, I would get it! It would be great to be able to exercise without bringing a phone but still have music, the ability to text, or make an emergency call. …Or to go out to dinner and leave my phone at home when I’m wearing a dress with no pockets and don’t want to carry a purse! I absolutely love my Series 2 Watch and living without it would just not be the same.

Sour Cream ‘n Sardines.

I had some leftover sour cream (which I could eat straight from the container, if I didn’t know better) and mixed it into a sardine salad. Perfection! I loved the cool, creaminess that it added. It’s so much better than mayo – scooped on a chip with a pickled jalapeno!

BIP

I am late to the game, but I finally caught up on Bachelor in Paradise. It was probably my least favorite season of it yet. It seemed like everyone was just so fake and just there for the fame, except for Taylor and Derek, but they were over the top. Taylor is not my favorite figure, going back to her Bachelor days, and I didn’t love Taylor and Derek together on BIP, but I thought his proposal at the end was perfection!

Thomas’ GOT Ice Wall

^^That is the state of my sod. SOB for the SOD.

I really don’t know why it died because I watered it like crazy, but I think it was a combination of a very warm spring, poor soil underneath the fertilizer, and the steep hill. The hill is much steeper than it looks in this picture.

Thomas wanted to build a giant wall of ice like in Game of Thrones. He is dying to build a retaining wall where that orange line is, to bring the yard up to level, which is what the grade was supposed to be like after the patio was built, but I think the hill morphed as it rained. Anyways, he had plans to DIY the wall himself, but the project started to get bigger and scarier and more urgent with fall coming, so we’ve postponed it to at least next year.

So, instead, he is bringing in tons of super fertile dirt and trying to get the grass to grow. The guy loves him some landscaping projects! You should see the front yard…

This.

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Clean Eating Taco Soup Recipe

I debated over calling this taco soup. I mean, I really feel like in order for something to qualify as taco anything, it really should have at least one tortilla in there somewhere.

But in the end,… Read more →



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