You might be questioning why I’m all of a sudden writing about my cat. After all, this is a blog about the menopause histamine connection. My male cat is certainly not menopausal. And other than being on my mind because the boy is a hot mess, what gives?
But it turns out, the cat is quite a good subject to study. The holistic suggestions I’ve read to heal my cat’s pruritus are almost identical to what I’ve researched about my own condition. In a way, the information I’ve read validates a lot of what I thought about my healing and its connection to Omega 3 specifically. And because the cat is in a controlled environment eating a specific diet, the supplements I’ve used to support his healing are the only variables. It’s as if I have my very own control subject in a medical study! Although I’m not quite sure Buzz would like to be thought of that way.
So before you leave thinking this post is about a cat, it’s really not. It’s about the power of Omega 3 to reduce inflammation and the importance of maintaining a balance between Omega 6 and Omega 3 in your body.
I know that the cat is reacting to pollen because he is an indoor cat whose diet never changes; he has IBS so it’s specific. Also, this always happens in April when all of Miami comes into bloom at the same time. Many animals have allergy issues now.
But why specifically do cats itch and why does their skin erupt? From PetEducation.com:
The reason that all these allergens cause itchy skin is that, simplistically, when allergens are inhaled, ingested, or come in contact with the cat’s body, they cause the immune system to produce a protein referred to as IgE. This protein then fixes itself to cells called ’tissue mast cells’ that are located in the skin. When IgE attaches to these mast cells, it causes the release of various irritating chemicals such as histamine. In cats, these chemical reactions and cell types occur in appreciable amounts only within the skin.
Recognize some terms? IgE, mast cells, histamine?
One of the major ways to help cure cat pruritus is to add a therapeutic dose of Omega 3 into the diet. You can also use quercetin and the B vitamins to support the healing. These are all things I’ve used myself. I’ve also used them on him. I started with quercetin which seemed to dull the itch but wasn’t healing him. I added in a multi-vitamin that has a good amount of B’s in addition to a full spectrum of others. And then after doing a lot more reading, I started him on salmon oil which is rich in Omega 3. That’s when I finally saw the healing start.
So the Omega 3 is the most interesting component of the healing picture. I’ve written quite a bit on adding Omega 3 into my diet to help reduce inflammation. I felt that my body was out of balance because I used Evening Primrose Oil which is high in Omega 6. So it’s very interesting to now have the Omega 3 connection to healing validated from an unexpected source.
The difference now for me is that I use food to supplement for Omega 3 rather than taking a supplement. Ever since I read the article about what’s in our foods and supplements, I’ve stopped using supplements with certain ingredients. Rosemary extract is used as a preservative in many oils and that’s the one I’d like to avoid ingesting.
Getting enough Omega 3 from food, as a vegetarian, is not as easy because supposedly plant omegas are not metabolized as well as fish oil. But I’ve recently read some interesting thinking about that. Dr. Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health writes:
There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets: One type is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in some vegetable oils, such as soybean, rapeseed (canola), and flaxseed, and in walnuts. ALA is also found in some green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens. The other type, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is found in fatty fish. The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA.
We do not know whether vegetable or fish omega-3 fatty acids are equally beneficial, although both seem to be beneficial. Unfortunately, most Americans do not get enough of either type. For good health, you should aim to get at least one rich source of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet every day. This could be through a serving of fatty fish (such as salmon), a tablespoon of canola or soybean oil in salad dressing or in cooking, or a handful of walnuts or ground flaxseed mixed into your morning oatmeal.
If you are getting adequate ALA in your diet from oils and nuts, I am not sure you really need to take an algal DHA supplement. As I mentioned above, the body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA; it is not known if ALA has substantial health benefits as is, or whether it must be converted to EPA and DHA to produce most of the benefits. My current interpretation of the science is that ALA is important to nutrition because it is an essential fatty acid, and that at least part of its benefits come from its conversion to EPA and DHA. I don’t advocate that vegans take n-3 supplements if they are getting ALA from vegetable oils, vegetables, walnuts, and other vegetarian sources as described above.
The above paragraphs bring into question the thinking that the only good Omega 3 is fish oil and that you need to get it through the EPA and DHA components. What Dr. Sacks is saying is that the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA and we don’t even necessarily know how much we really need to maintain our health. As long as you are getting adequate ALA, your body can do the work to convert it to what it needs.
We don’t convert ALA to DHA easily. (DHA is the one that seems to be more important.) The interesting thing I found, once I really started to dig, is a relationship between converting ALA and women. Women convert less ALA, and estrogen might play a part. Although the source I found doesn’t give specifics as to why or when the estrogen plays a part.
In essence, what I’ve gathered is that the body does not convert dietary ALA easily and might not need to. Someone decided at some point that since it doesn’t we should supplement with EPA and DHA. So do we need it or don’t we? My opinion, and this is a non medical opinion, is that as long as you are eating a balanced diet and are not flooding your system with Omega 6, you can eat your Omega 3 to get enough ALA to let your body do whatever it does.
I know my Omega balance was off when my histamine issues were at their peak and I did use a supplement. But I used a lot of supplements to get over the worst of it. And I don’t regret it for a minute! I would even suggest that if you think your Omega 3/6 ratio is imbalanced, you could think about supplementing. I don’t think I could have brought my body back into balance as quickly as I did without using an Omega 3 supplement. Much like my cat who is now responding and healing, my body needed a large dose to get the healing underway.
Now though, I’ve stopped the supplements and just make sure I get what I need in food. And armed with the information that dietary Omega 3 might be enough, I’m making sure I eat enough every day. I am also very aware of what foods can cause an imbalance. Too much Omega 6 will cause a problem. So that is another consideration when trying to maintain health with diet alone.
I always thought I had to supplement to get Omega 3, but now I’m thinking as long as I know I’m eating Omega 3 my body will do the rest. I eat chia in my smoothie in the morning and I often eat mungo beans. (Also known as black dal or black gram. Not to be confused with mung beans.) I also try to limit eating large amounts of Omega 6’s. For my friends who love the lists, here’s a good list of the foods highest is Omega 6. (Safflower and Sunflower oils are the top two on the list. Bet you thought they were healthy oils to have.)
This discussion is extremely important to women because so many of us try to get the symptoms of PMS and menopause under control using supplements such as Evening Primrose oil and Borage Oil. They are both extremely high in Omega 6. I actually think my taking Evening Primrose oil unleashed my intolerance once my periods stopped. I was fine using it in my younger years to control mood swings, but once menopause came on in earnest, the inflammation took off and the itching started.
I think many things helped my body heal. Olive oil, the B vitamins, Quercetin, Olive Leaf extract…those all were part of it. But now, after seeing the cat’s skin change within three days of starting him on Omega 3, I can tell you that I really believe Omega 3 is one of the keys to healing the inflammation in the body. It’s actually such a powerful anti-inflammatory that I’ve seen warnings on cat health sites to be careful not to overdo it, as it can suppress their immune systems.
In the meantime, Buzzy the cat is doing so well I do not even have to think about putting him on prednisone again. Sunday night I went to bed thinking I’d have to. He looked awful and was clearly suffering. I was up at five in the morning sick to my stomach with worry. Then the boy walked in and looked at me and I knew he was going to be all right. The inflammation was already down on his poor little itch ravaged head. Now, three days later, the sores are healing and his puffy eyes are almost back to normal.
He still has quite a ways to go. And hiding the salmon oil in his food is a new challenge in cat gastronomy. It has a strong smell and he’s not to keen on it. But I’m pretty crafty and I’ve managed to convince him that dinner can be better with a bit of salmon seasoning. And he gets snacks laced with salmon oil which he doesn’t mind too much. My other fat little cat can’t understand why she’s not getting snacks too, but that’s another post. That’s for the overeaters anonymous cat post.
In the meantime, start analyzing your diet. Do you get enough Omega 3? I hope so. It can make all the difference to your health.