While much of the interest in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) centers on their heart, brain, and eye health benefits, EPA and DHA from fish oil also have immunomodulatory properties. In fact, a recently published pilot study1 shows that a high-DHA fish-oil concentrate may support a healthy immune response in middle-aged obese adults.
The human pilot study used an ex vivo model of B-cell cytokines—small proteins important in immune signaling—to determine if the high-DHA fish oil concentrate’s effects were pathway dependent. The results showed that the high-DHA concentrate may indeed modulate human B-cell activity, but the study’s authors stressed the need for further testing in a larger cohort.
“Animal studies consistently show that omega-3s robustly improve various aspects of immunity, including inflammation”, said Raz Shaikh, PhD, lead investigator of the study and associate professor of nutrition at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a press statement. “To-date, B cell activation has not been well studied in humans with omega-3s and underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We were very excited to observe the immune enhancing properties of high-DHA fish oil on B cells in humans.”
The study helps elucidate how omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may operate in the human immune system, and suggests that DHA in particular may uniquely contribute to certain aspects of immune function. As the prevalence of inflammatory and chronic diseases in the population rises, the results may prove especially relevant, and may point to new modalities for addressing such conditions.
Steve Dillingham, global director, Organic Technologies’ AlaskOmega Ingredients (Coshocton, OH)—the study’s major sponsor—added: “This study adds to the body of knowledge that supplementation with a high DHA fish oil concentrate can help support healthy immune systems in select populations. While this pilot study results are certainly encouraging, much more research in this area is warranted.”
1. Guesdon W et al., “Effects of fish oil concentrates on ex vivo B cell responses of obese subjects upon BCR/TLR stimulation: A pilot study,” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, vol. 53 (March 2018): 72-80