Itchy Skin, Eat a Handful of Nuts

Discovery links omega-6 fatty acids to fight against dermatitis

(RxWiki News) A specific omega-6 fatty acid may be critical in maintaining healthy skin, according to a new study from the University of Illinois.

Manabu Nakamura, a U of I associate professor of food science and human nutrition, said researchers "knocked out" a gene responsible for en enzyme that helps the body produce a specific form of omega-6 fatty acid known as arachidonic acid. Without this acid, mice models developed ulcerative dermatitis, a skin disorder associated with bacterial growth. The mice scratched themselves continually, producing bleeding sores, until scientists added arachidonic acid to their diet.

While the mice had plenty of linoleic acid (important because it provides the lipids that protect the outer layer of skin), they could not convert it to arachidonic acid because of the missing gene.

Arachidonic acid is also essential to the production of prostaglandins, compounds that can lead to inflammatory reactions, which are critical to proper immune function. Aspirin and ibuprofen and other common painkillers work by inhibiting arachidonic acid's conversion to prostaglandins.

Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oils, nuts (walnuts, brazils, almonds and cashews) and seeds (flax, hemp, sunflower, sesame, pine nuts and pumpkin).

Review Date: 
January 28, 2011