Omega 6 Gut flora/fauna and you

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created March 29, 2012 at 12:57 PM

Is there any indication that the proper gut flora/fauna will help the body digest omega 6. Or at the very least break it down into something better?

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on April 13, 2012
at 03:44 PM

Hi Anthony-Pierre,

Everything in the body is interrelated, which is why it is not optimal to isolate certain functions without considering how they work in synergy with other aspects of the organism.

Gut flora's primary digestive role is assimilation of carbohydrates by producing enzymes which the human cells otherwise lack; however, bacteria are also involved in the digestion of fats, specifically in bile acid (which emulsifies fats, including omega 6 fatty acids, into small droplets which can then be digested by enzymes) metabolism: bile acids can be primary, i.e. synthesised in the liver, or secondary, i.e. products of bacterial metabolism of primary bile acids. These two types are then conjugated in the liver with taurine or glycine, and then excreted into the intestine for fat digestion.

In the intestine, bile acids mix with a large number of bacteria; of these, however, only certain strains (of Streptococcus & Clostridia) can produce the necessary enzymes for converting the conjugated bile into acids necessary for fat digestion/assimilation. So normal fat absorbtion depends a lot on a complicated, fine-tuned process involving gut bacteria.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth has been shown to cause malabsorbtion - milder cases involving micronutrients such as vitamins, especially B vitamins; in more severe cases, however, carbohydrate and fat absorbtion was affected (symptoms such as steatorrhea - fat in the stools). Also, excess bacteria may interfere with the enzymes themselves - the reasons for this are still studied, but the most plausible theories are that they do so by either by producing toxic substances that would damage the mucous membrane, impairing absorbtion (in a manner similar to what gluten does to a celiac), and by degrading enzymes or cofactors necessary for the utilization of nutrients, including fats.

So, in general, gut flora impacts your ability to digest fat of any type/saturation.

Now, specifically on omega-6:

The pathway for breakdown of omega 6 is roughly this:

Linoleic Acid is converted into Gamma Linolenic Acid (this process requires Vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc) => GLA is converted into Dihomogamma Linoleic Acid => DLA can be converted to either Anti-inflammatory Series 1 Prostaglandins or into Arachidonic Acid by the enzyme ???delta-5-desaturase??? (this process needs Vitamin C, niacin and zinc) => in the second case, arachidonic acid is converted into pro-inflammatory Series 2 prostaglandins, contingent on conditions in the body (inflammatory processes/stress/etc)

Now its worth noting that delta-5-desaturase has a greater affinity for converting Omega 3 oils over Omega 6 oils; however, when it does convert omega 6 oils, it 'prefers' to convert Dihomogammalinolenic acid to the anti-inflammatory series 1 prostaglandins over Arachidonic Acid. So, if we go back to issues with gut flora, an imbalance could negatively affect these enzymes, prompting creation of inflammatory rather than anti-inflammatory substances.

Also, its worth remembering that inflammation is nonetheless a useful process through which healing takes place. Gut flora disbalance in itself can cause digestive problems and inflammation, which can prompt production of arachidonic acid since the conditions in the body are interpreted as pro-inflammatory (which is often the case, given the prevalence of chronic stress amongst modern peoples).

So, back to your question, gut flora undoubtedly helps, and is necessary, for proper digestion of fats, including omega-6. And healthy flora may promote lower levels of general inflammation, prompting omega-6 to be converted more to anti-inflammatory postaglandins. But it isn't by far the only factor at play in the metabolism of fats (as you can see certain stages require certain minerals, especially zinc & magnesium, so a deficiency can also disrupt the process) - its a complex process involving not only the digestive, but also the endocrine and nervous systems.

It is worth noting that most people have pro-inflammatory conditions in their bodies, mainly due to stress/pollution/improper diet, so even if one has ha relatively resilient digestive system, it doesn't mean omega-6 will not be pro-inflammatory.

Also, an imbalance of omega 3 to omega 6 remains an imbalance, irrespective of gut flora, once absorbtion into tissues has taken place; excess omega 6 has been linked to inflammation, heart disease and even depression. Omega 6 and omega 3 are both essential fatty acids that have many functions in the body, but they should be balanced in the diet. Gut flora will impact what you already ingest, it cannot balance out an imbalanced diet.

Lots of love!




on April 13, 2012
at 06:30 AM

Digestion and absorption of fats happens in the high gut, and is practically uninfluenced by gut bacteria. A healthy body provides the necessary enzymes.

Your body needs omega 6 - in proportion to omega 3. To hack your ratio, it is critical to limit your omega 6 intake - and not to try to balance by just taking additional omega 3 - this leads to an excessive intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).

I hope it goes without saying that you've tossed all your seed oils!

Don't consume an excessive quantity of nuts and seeds in particular - and limit the amount of chicken fat you eat. Do eat plenty of seafood, choosing shellfish, squid, shrimp and smaller fish in preference to larger predatory fish like tuna.

To analyse your intake ratio is very difficult, but these (general!) guidelines should help. My go to guy on this topic is Chris Kresser for further information.



on April 12, 2012
at 07:34 PM

What do you mean by "break it down?" The body requires Omega 6, it's just we have skewed the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3, which causes issues.

The body breaks down Omega 6 Fatty Acids into several components, each necessary for life. I know Wikipedia isn't the be all end all, but they have a pretty good write-up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega-6_fatty_acid

As far as mitigating damage cause from excess Omega 6 (in relation to 3), that may not be available. Just add more Omega 3 animal foods, or a high quality supplement.



on March 29, 2012
at 02:49 PM

My educated guess: no.

Fats get broken down by some enzymes in the mouth. After some work by the stomach, any fats that make it to the small intestine are broken down by enzymes from the pancreas.

Bacteria are small -- they like easy things to eat, i.e. sugars and some slightly denser carbs. Gut flora can help digest things with sugar or cellulose like milk or fibrous veggies, but not fats.

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