Omega 6 deficiency implicated in severe eczema

Omega 6 fatty acids have long been known to be important for healthy skin function as they provide the lipids that coat the outer layer of the skin, keeping the body from losing water and energy. However, it would appear that having enough omega 6 fatty acid is not enough unless the person (or mouse, as in this study) has enough of the delta-6-desaturase enzyme to convert the omega 6 fatty acids into arachidonic acid which appears to be a crucial element needed for healthy skin.

In experiments with mice, the researchers knocked out the gene responsible for delta-6-desaturase enzyme which makes the conversion of omega 6 fatty acids to arachidonic acid. Without arachidonic acid, the mice developed severe ulcerative dermatitis. The animals were very itchy, scratched themselves continuously and developed bleeding sores. However, when arachidonic acid was added back to the animals' diet, the itching went away.

This new understanding may have implications for treating the flaky, itchy skin that sometimes develops without an attributable cause in infants.

Arachidonic acid is also essential to the production of prostaglandins, compounds that can lead to inflammatory reactions and are important to immune function. The researchers noted that we usually think of inflammation as a bad thing, but in this case, prostaglandins prevented dermatitis, which is an inflammatory reaction. They also measured prostaglandin levels in the animals' skin, and when they fed arachidonic acid to the knockout mice, they resumed making these important chemical compounds.

The researchers cautioned that there are still things they don't understand about the function of this omega-6 fatty acid and that more research is needed at cellular level.

Stroud et al. Disruption of FADS2 gene in mice impairs male reproduction and causes dermal and intestinal ulceration. The Journal of Lipid Research, 2009; 50 (9): 1870

September 2009

Click here for more research on possible causes of eczema

For LINKS to freefrom skin care products click here.