EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids which are not easily produced in the body, and although they must be consumed in the diet, these key fatty acids are usually ingested in small amounts. It has been well documented that Americans don’t consumer enough of these omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Thus, increasing intake of EPA and DHA generally requires supplementation.
New research shows us that DHA and EPA are critical for supporting a healthy inflammatory response and overall immune system function.
Omega-3 fatty acids impact the production of immune-boosting cells.
B-cells are a type of white blood cell responsible for producing antibodies. A study of obese individuals found that secretion of B-cells was increased after supplementation of DHA (Guesdon et al, 2018).
EPA and DHA are also important to support the structure of immune cells. “It is worth mentioning that omega-3 fatty acids, via in vitro stimulation or via dietary supplementation, effectively incorporate into the cellular membrane of all the immune cells investigated to date” (Gutierrez et al, 2019).
EPA and DHA can also influence the inflammatory response, which is the first step in immune response.
In the presence of omega-3 fatty acids, the competition for enzymes reduces the synthesis of omega-6-derived metabolites which contribute to inflammation. This competition results in a blunting of pro-inflammatory pathways. This is beneficial to the immune response because it prevents the infection from over-stimulating the inflammatory response which could lead to out-of-control inflammation. A deficiency of omega-3 could result in excessive and damaging inflammation (Fenton et al, 2013).
As the immune system attacks unwanted pathogens, it may cause collateral damage which must be healed. That healing process is called ‘resolution’ and is mediated by metabolites of omega-3 fatty acids called ‘specialized pro-resolving mediators’ (SPMs).
The resolution process includes removal of microorganisms, dead cells and debris, restoration of vascular integrity and perfusion, tissue regeneration, remission of fever and relief from inflammatory pain.
When there are lower levels of omega-3s in the body, there is less material available to produce SPMs and thus a less effective healing process from lingering inflammation and damage.
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Basil, M. C., & Levy, B. D. (2016). Specialized pro-resolving mediators: endogenous regulators of infection and inflammation. Nature reviews. Immunology, 16(1), 51–67. https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2015.4
Fenton, J. I., Hord, N. G., Ghosh, S., & Gurzell, E. A. (2013). Immunomodulation by dietary long chain omega-3 fatty acids and the potential for adverse health outcomes. Prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and essential fatty acids, 89(6), 379–390. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2013.09.011
Guesdon, W., Kosaraju, R., Brophy, P., Clark, A., Dillingham, S., Aziz, S., Moyer, F., Willson, K., Dick, J. R., Patil, S. P., Balestrieri, N., Armstrong, M., Reisdroph, N., & Shaikh, S. R. (2018). Effects of fish oils on ex vivo B-cell responses of obese subjects upon BCR/TLR stimulation: a pilot study. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 53, 72–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.10.009
Gutiérrez, S., Svahn, S. L., & Johansson, M. E. (2019). Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(20), 5028. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20205028