Prostaglandins

Prostaglandins were first discovered in the 1930s by a Swedish professor, Ulf von Euler. By the nature of the discovery, he thought they had come from the prostate gland. Later investigation showed that prostaglandins exist in nearly every cell of the body (with the exclusion of white blood cells). They are similar to hormones in that they facilitate communication. While hormones communicate between cells, prostaglandins facilitate communication within individual cells or close by the cells.1 It is just one of a family of substances called eicosanoid which performs this function.

Prostaglandin Molecule

Prostaglandins are derived from fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, as well asarachidonic acid (AA) found in butter and meats. Prostaglandins have 20 carbon atoms (including a five carbon ring). There are a couple of different prevalent structures with one, two, or three double carbon bonds. This structure is what allows them to form the five carbon ring.

Produced in the cell, prostaglandins spark many different processes. They move calcium in and out of cells, they stimulate dilation and contraction, cell division and growth, as well as the secretion of hormones, and the production (and secretion) of digestive juices.2 They can also cause inflamation and fever.

There are three series of prostaglandins, depending on their precursors. Series-1 is from omega-6, series-2 from AA and omega-6, and series-3 from omega-3. Series-2 is thought to induce swelling and inflammation in tissue - especially damaged tissue. It is fast reacting, causing quick swelling. It can also raise temperature, and is well-known for its ability to induce labor in pregnant women. Series-3 (from omega-3) ameliorates this effect. Without series-3 prostaglandins, the body can over-swell and over-heat. The series-three helps protect the body against heart attacks, arthritis, lupus, and asthma.

Destinations:
Neutrophils
Oxalic Acid
Brain Function and Omega-3

Even so, all three of the prostaglandin series are considered vital, as even swelling and temperature rise occasionally play a positive role in health. Problems can arise when prostaglandin production is short-circuited. One way this can happen is with the consumption of trans-fatty acids that come from products like margarine and shortening. It does this by blocking one of the early steps in the production process. Another way to block series-3 prostaglandin is by consuming too much omega-6 coupled with insufficient amounts of omega-3. This can use up the enzyme used to make prostaglandin, leaving too little of the enzyme left to make series-3. Ideally, there should be a good balance between omega-3 and omega-6.

Asprin also inhibits prostagalandin creation by blocking the path used to make it. In this way it reduces fever and inflammation. But the drawback to aspirin is that this same action can cause upset stomach in the digestive system, and it blocks all series of prostaglandin production, not just that causing inflammation and fever.3

Generally, prostaglandin plays a positive role in the human body. Yet there are times when it needs to be controlled, especially by regulation of the diet and nutrition.


  1. Elmhurst Virtual Chembook
  2. Article on Prostaglandin pathways previously at http://www.westonaprice.org/Tripping-Lightly-Down-the-Prostaglandin-Pathways.html from the Weston A. Price Foundation
  3. University of Chicago

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