Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) have long been touted as beneficial to cardiovascular function and health via various mechanisms. Their cardio-protective attributes are chiefly derived from positive effects demonstrated on the endothelial lining of major vascular structures (especially arteries). New research published online and scheduled for print publication in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity (2012), has additionally established that adequate omega-3 intake (via supplementation) can lower systemic inflammation in healthy, but overweight, middle-aged and older adults. Chronic inflammation is linked to many conditions (and possibly more to be discovered) including coronary artery disease (CAD), Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and even clinical frailty/functional decline among the elderly.
Omega-3 supplementation was found to promote a notable reduction in the serum concentration of a major inflammatory marker known as interleukin-6 (IL-6). This protein-based cytokine is usually produced in response to a stressor such as injury or infection, as explained by the study co-author Ron Glaser (a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics), but also presents itself in elevated quantities among individuals with excess body fat and immunological or metabolic disease. “You need this good inflammation for an initial response, but if… inflammation becomes chronic, then you’ve got a problem,” Glaser said. “Our research and studies done by others have shown that these two cytokines are clearly related to overall health – and when they’re elevated in the blood, that is not good for overall health. So the more ways we can find to lower them, the better.”
Study participants (138 sedentary adults, average age 51 years, 91% considered overweight) ingested either 2.5g or 1.25g of active omega-3 PUFAs in a daily supplement, or a placebo. The supplements were calibrated to contain a 7:1 ratio of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as EPA has been suggested to have superior anti-inflammatory properties. The placebo consisted of a mix of oil pills that represent a typical American’s daily dietary oil intake.
After four months of supplementation:
As can be seen, there is no significant statistical difference between the two doses, but each dose clearly produced cytokine reductions that differed significantly from the placebo group. “These data support the idea that a higher dose of omega-3 is not necessarily better than a lower dose in terms of prevention of inflammation,” said Martha Belury, another co-author of the study.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers a daily omega-3 supplement providing 3g/day to be safe. Even though the dosages used in this study were within FDA-approved measures, the researchers did not attempt to extend their findings to make a general, potentially-misleading recommendation concerning supplementation. The team notes that omega-3 supplementation should not take place of good health behaviors and food selections, but individuals with diagnosed inflammatory diseases will likely benefit from regular use.