Poor wound healing, a somewhat common and well-known problem, especially among hospital patients, is associated with huge health costs. Proper wound healing is contingent upon on the presence of different nutrients, and it appears that the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is particularly important. This was demonstrated in a new study of rats, where higher intake of omega-3 at the expense of omega-6 turned out to have the best effect on the formation of new blood vessels, increased collagen synthesis, and faster wound healing. In the study, which is published in Nutrients, the authors look closer at the fact that modern diets typically contain too much omega-6 and too little omega-3, and this contributes to problems such as cardiovascular disease, overweight, diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases.
Our skin is the body’s largest organ and consists of different layers. The collagen in our connective tissue helps keep our skin firm and supple. Wound healing is a rather intricate biological process that is divided into the following three stages:
- The inflammatory phase is the first reaction to cellular damage. Here, blood vessels contract and leucocytes gather at the site to prevent an infection. Afterwards, macrophages arrive to get rid of the damaged tissue. This phase is characterized by the formation of a dark scab, swelling, redness, and pain around the wound.
- The granulation phase is characterized by the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). Fibroblasts arrive at the wound site, and the synthesis of collagen begins. The new tissue is red and vulnerable.
- The maturation phase is characterized by a remodeling of the new connective tissue to make it stronger and more elastic. Weeks, months, or even years may pass before the new tissue has reached complete maturity.
Effective wound healing hinges on many factors such as the size and depth of the wound, circulatory health, and the presence of nutrients. It is commonly known that vitamin C is of vital importance to collagen synthesis, immune defense, and other relevant processes involved in wound healing. Some studies have also looked at zinc and amino acids like arginine and glutamine. In addition, essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 are known to play a role in the process. In the new study, the scientists wanted to look at how the ratio between the two fatty acids affects the inflammatory response and other wound healing processes.
It is vital to have the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6
We have omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our cell membranes where they regulate the inflammatory response and many other physiological processes. It is highly important to have the right balance between these two fatty acids. Unfortunately, modern diets contain too much omega-6 from plant oils, margarine, and industrially processed foods. To make matters worse, our diets contain far too little omega-3, which we primarily get from oily fish.
Modern eating habits disrupt the balance between omega-3 and omega-6, resulting in a 1:20 ratio that can increase the risk of unwanted inflammation, cardiovascular disease, overweight, diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases. In old days, the dietary balance between these two fatty acids was closer to a 1:4 or 1:2 ratio which is much more ideal.
Eating more omega-3 improves wound healing by several parameters
In their new study, the scientists divided rats into three groups: A, B, and C. The rats were exposed to experimental back skin wounds while sedated. From one week before until one week after the intervention, the rats in group A were fed omega-3 and omega-6 in a 1.4:1 ratio, while the ratio in group B was 4.3:1. Group C – the control group – only got water. The scientists then looked at different parameters such as fatty acids in plasma, oxidative stress, and the ability of wounds to close properly. Wound samples were analyzed using an electron microscope
They found that the rats in groups A and B produced more new blood vessels and more organized collagen fibers compared with the control group. Also, the rats in groups A and B produced more nitrogen oxide (NO) which is important for most cell types involved in wound healing.
They even found that the rats in group B that got the most omega-3 produced more high-quality collagen fibers. In other words, it is not enough that at wound is able to close fast. Proper healing of all the skin layers is equally important.
It is worth making a note of the fact that omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, which in itself is determining for the body’s ability to carry nutrients to the site of the injury and remove dead cells and waste products from the area.
The scientists conclude that even short-term intervention with higher intake of omega-3 and less omega-6 has a positive impact on wound healing, but they call for more research, especially in order to study the effect of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids. A diet with more oily fish like herring, mackerel, or wild salmon is a good way to step up your omega-3 intake. Another option is to a take a high-quality fish oil supplement.
Alicia Hokynková et al. Fatty Acid Supplementation Affects Skin Wound Healing in a Rat Model. Nutrients 2022
Alap Ali Zahid et al. Reactive Nitrogen Species Releasing Hydrogel for Enhances Wound Healing. IEEE 2019
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