Arachidonic acid is a type of omega-6 fatty acid that is involved in inflammation. Like other omega-6 fatty acids, arachidonic acid is essential to your health. Omega-6 fatty acids help maintain your brain function and regulate growth. Eating a diet that has a combination of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids will lower your risk of developing heart disease. Arachidonic acid in particular helps regulate neuronal activity, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology explains.
Arachidonic Acid and Eicosanoids
Eicosanoids, derived from arachidonic acid, are formed when your cells are damaged or are under threat of damage. This stimulus activates enzymes that transform the arachidonic acid into eicosanoids such as prostaglandin, thromboxane and leukotrienes. Eicosanoids cause inflammation. Therefore, the more arachidonic acid that is present, the greater capacity your body has to become inflamed. Eicosanoids tend to act locally rather than circulate throughout your body because they degrade quickly.
Arachidonic acid and its metabolites help regulate neurotransmitter release, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology writes. Arachidonic acid is metabolized so that it may be used to modulate ion channel activities, protein kinases and neurotransmitter uptake systems. Arachidonic acid acts as a substrate that is changed to useful metabolites.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen counter inflammation by inhibiting the action of cyclooxygenese, the University of Washington explains. Cyclooxygenase is one of the enzymes responsible for transforming arachidonic acid into eicosanoids and is found throughout your body, including your digestive tract. A second type of cyclooxygenase is released by inflammatory cells and transforms arachidonic acid into the eicosanoids responsible for causing inflammation. By suppressing both types of cyclooxygenase, NSAIDs are able to counter inflammation. By inhibiting cyclooxygenase activity, however, NSAIDs potentially causes an increase in stomach acid. This is because the first type of cyclooxygenase stops the secretion of stomach acid.
Dietary Sources and Benefits
Your body derives arachidonic acid from the omega-6 fatty acids you consume in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, MayoClinic.com notes. The amount of omega-6 fatty acids you consume daily should only comprise 5 to 10 percent of your total caloric intake in order to avoid potential health risks such as heart disease. This is because omega-6 fatty acids may cause your arterial lining to swell, constricting the arteries. Constricted blood flow through your arteries leads to elevated blood pressure and heart problems over time. Eating omega-6 fatty acids in this moderate manner instead of the saturated fats found in meat will actually prove beneficial to your health.
- MayoClinic.com; Omega-6 fatty acids: Can They Cause Heart Disease?; November 2009
- American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; Arachidonic Acid; Daniele Piomelli
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Omega-6 Fatty Acids; Steven D. Ehrlich; June 2009
- University of Washington: Arachidonic Acid Derivatives (Eicosanoids)