Recent research has discovered a mechanism by which fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce inflammation. A study testing a fortified fish oil supplement found that it increased blood levels of certain anti-inflammatory molecules.
Share on PinterestA new study sheds light on the anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil supplements.
The anti-inflammatory molecules are known as specialized pro-dissolving mediators (SPMs) and have potent effects on white blood cells as well as on the control of blood vessel inflammation.
Scientists already knew that the body makes SPMs by breaking down essential fatty acids, including some omega-3 fatty acids. However, the relationship between supplement intake and circulating SPM levels remained unclear.
A team of researchers from the William Harvey Research Institute at Queen Mary University in London in the UK set out to unravel the relationship by testing the effects of a fortified fish oil supplement on 22 healthy volunteers aged between 19 and 37.
The team conducted the Circulation Research study as a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Therefore, neither the participants nor those who gave them the doses and monitored them knew who was receiving fish oil supplements and who was receiving the placebo.
“We used the molecules as biomarkers to show how omega-3 fatty acids are used by our body and to determine whether the production of these molecules has a positive effect on white blood cells,” says lead study author Jesmond Dalli Professor for molecular pharmacology at the William Harvey Institute.
In the study, three doses of a fortified fish oil supplement were tested against the placebo. The researchers took samples of the participants’ blood for testing.
Each participant gave five samples within 24 hours – at baseline and then 2, 4, 6, and 24 hours after taking their supplement or placebo dose.
The researchers found that taking the fortified fish oil supplement increased blood levels of SPMs. The results showed a “time and dose dependent” increase in circulating blood levels of SPMs.
The tests also showed that supplementation resulted in a dose-dependent increase in immune cell attacks against bacteria and a decrease in cell activity that promotes blood clotting.
Inflammation is a defense reaction of the immune system that is essential for good health. Various factors can trigger the reaction, including damaged cells, toxins, and pathogens such as bacteria.
Some of the immune cells that are active during inflammation can also damage tissues. Therefore, it is important that the inflammation subsides after the threat ceases to allow healing. To put an end to inflammation, anti-inflammatory agents like SPMs play a role.
However, if the inflammation persists and becomes chronic, it will undermine it instead of protecting health. Studies have linked inflammation to heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other serious medical conditions.
Although it remains unclear whether these molecules reduce cardiovascular disease, a press release from the study said they “charge macrophages, specialized cells that destroy bacteria and eliminate dead cells,” and “make platelets less sticky, potentially reducing their formation is reduced by blood clots. “
Research has also shown that the molecules play a role in tissue regeneration. Prof. Dalli notes: “These molecules have several goals.”
A previous 2019 study in NEJM showed that a prescription formula containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can reduce heart attacks and strokes – and deaths related to these events – in people who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease or who already have it. EPA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil.
Dr. However, Deepak L. Bhatt, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, and director of this study, says there is no reliable evidence – counter supplements can have the same effect.
In the United States, federal regulators have approved two formulations: one that contains EPA and a second that combines EPA with another omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a scientific advisory warning consumers to avoid unregulated omega-3 supplements.
A previous AHA opinion found that while such supplements may slightly reduce the risk of death from a heart attack or heart failure, there is no evidence that they prevent heart disease at all.
Prof. Dalli says more studies are needed to determine if people over the age of 45 would get the same results with fortified fish oil supplements that they saw in the younger volunteers.
Compared to healthy people, people with chronic inflammation have lower SPM levels, he notes, noting that the enzymes they produce don’t work as well in these people.
He suggests that this is the kind of information developers need to consider when formulating supplements to treat disease. It is also important to check that the body is breaking down the supplements into protective molecules.
“We are still far from having the magic formula. Every person needs a certain formulation, or at least a certain dosage, and we need to learn more about that. “
Prof. Jesmond Dalli
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