Prostaglandin production is affected by many factors, including natural body processes, diet, and drugs. The body produces prostaglandins in response to tissue or blood vessel injury. The ingestion of various types of dietary fats stimulates the body to produce prostaglandins, some beneficial and some potentially harmful. Finally, the production of prostaglandin can be controlled through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin.
The body’s production of the fatty-acid derivative prostaglandin has effects on nearly every organ of the body. Some prostaglandins cause inflammation, fever, and pain in response to illness or injury, while other types inhibit the inflammatory response. Prostaglandins also cause uterine contractions during pregnancy. They act in a way that is similar to hormones in that they cause changes in body processes, but they are produced in body cells in the area where their action is required.
Aspirin and other NSAIDs act to reduce prostaglandin production and reduce pain and inflammation, but they also inhibit the production of beneficial prostaglandins. Another class of drugs called selective COX-2 inhibitors act to reduce only pro-inflammatory prostaglandin production while leaving beneficial prostaglandins alone.
The production of prostaglandin has an important role in causing the uterine contractions that lead to childbirth. To induce labor, prostaglandins can be applied to the cervix or taken orally. Interestingly, seminal fluid also contains prostaglandins, leading to the scientifically disproven theory that having sexual intercourse will stimulate labor.
As prostaglandins are derived and synthesized from fatty acids, the diet can be used to either suppress antagonistic prostaglandins that cause pain and inflammation or to stimulate beneficial prostaglandin production to decrease inflammation. Foods that are high in saturated animal fat, like red meat and dairy, contain arachidonic acid (AA). This fatty acid is a precursor of antagonistic prostaglandin production that produces inflammation in the body, including the type of prostaglandin that increases uterine contractions.
Foods containing plant oils and B vitamins, like nuts and seeds, contain linoleic acid (LA), which is converted to gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) in the body. LA and GLA stimulate anti-inflammatory prostaglandin production. Fish oils containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), evening primrose oil, and borage oil supplements also contain high amounts of GLA.
Other substances may increase beneficial production of prostaglandin while suppressing inflammatory prostaglandins. Bromelain is an enzymatic substance derived from pineapples that has been used historically to treat inflammatory conditions. Although results have been mixed, some studies show that it suppresses inflammatory prostaglandins produced as the result of osteoarthritis, digestive disorders, and sinusitis. Turmeric, mangosteen, and pomegranate have also shown prostaglandin-suppressing qualities and should be studied further for their effects on prostaglandin production.