Recent research has shown 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 powerful effects on white blood cells and control the inflammation of blood vessels.
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 of London in the UK set out to clarify the link by testing the effects of a fortified fish oil supplement on 22 healthy volunteers aged 19 to 37 years.
The team conducted the Circulation Research study as a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Therefore, neither the participants nor those who administered the doses and monitored them knew who was receiving the fish oil supplements and who was receiving the placebo.
“We used the molecules as our 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, who is a Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the William Harvey Institute.
The study tested three doses of a fortified fish oil supplement versus the placebo. The researchers took blood samples from the participants to test.
Each participant gave five samples over 24 hours – at the beginning and then 2, 4, 6 and 24 hours after taking their supplementary 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 the SPM levels in the circulating blood.
The tests also showed that the 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, so it is important that the inflammation subsides after the threat ceases to allow healing. To stop inflammation, anti-inflammatory agents like SPMs play a role.
However, if the inflammation persists and becomes chronic, it is not protecting health, it is undermining it. Studies have linked inflammation to heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other serious health conditions.
Although it remains unclear whether these molecules reduce cardiovascular disease, a press release on the study said they “overload macrophages, specialized cells that destroy bacteria and eliminate dead cells,” and “make platelets less sticky, potentially causing them to form of blood clots. “
Research has also shown that the molecules play a role in tissue regeneration. As Prof. Dalli notes: “These molecules have several goals.”
A previous 2019 study in NEJM showed that a prescription formula that contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) could or may reduce heart attacks and strokes – and deaths related to these events – in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease already suffer from 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, both in Boston, MA, and director of that study, says there is no reliable evidence that over-the-counter supplements can have the same effect.
In the United States, federal agencies have approved two formulations: one with 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 recommendation warning consumers to avoid unregulated omega-3 supplements.
A previous AHA opinion found that while such supplements can 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 whether 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 levels of SPM, 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 nutritional supplements to treat disease. It is also important to check that the body is breaking the supplements into protective molecules.
“We are still a long way from the magic formula. Everyone needs a certain formulation or at least a certain dosage, and we need to find out more about that. “
Prof. Jesmond Dalli