Could fish oil actually give the immune system a boost? In the past, studies have suggested that fish rich in DHA and EPA oils can reduce the risk of certain diseases by reducing inflammation — an immune system overreaction. Therefore, it was logical to assume that fish oil simply suppresses the immune response.
A new study published in the April Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that it’s more complicated than that. The researchers studied two groups of mice — a control group that ate a normal diet and a second group that received an extra DHA-rich fish oil for five weeks.
To their surprise, when they examined the cell structure in the mice, they discovered that the fish oil actually encouraged the production of antibodies, allowing those mice to clear their bodies of disease pathogens faster than the mice on the plain diet. In other words, the fish oil seemed to suppress harmful inflammation while encouraging a stronger helpful immune response.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one of the two most important omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is the other. Omega-3 fats are a special kind of fat that can’t be made in the body and must therefore come from healthy eating. Because of their inflammation-suppressing properties, they can reduce swelling and pain, and they have been recommended for a wide number of problems from breast pain, diabetes, psoriasis, obesity, and many more.
If you’re sold and ready to give it a try, here’s one more thing to think about. The mice seemed to do just fine with the supplements, but a study released in March suggested that humans get more benefit from actually eating the fish than from taking the fish oil pills.
You can find the healthy omega-3 fish oils in a variety of common choices, including tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovy, and trout.
[oil fish salmon photo courtesy Peterjhpark via Wikipedia Commons]