Much has been written about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but not much research has been done to identify why omega-3s are so helpful. Now, for the first time, scientists have identified why omega-3s reduce inflammation, and they found this information by looking into a living mouse cell.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats that are perhaps best known for their ability to reduce the inflammatory response and prevent tissue damage and swelling that then cause pain. Other benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids include prevention of excessive blood clotting, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of prostate cancer.
This new study “is the first comprehensive study of what fish oils actually do inside a cell.” The fish oils referred to are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are the main omega-3 fatty acids and the ones found in fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon.
The researchers fed EPA, DHA, and an omega-6 fatty acid (arachidonic acid, associated with inflammation) to mouse white blood cells and then stimulated the cells to produce an inflammatory response. The omega-3 fatty acids inhibited an enzyme associated with inflammation (cyclooxygenase) but not other enzymes called lipoxygenases, which are associated with both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses.
This study is important because it shows how omega-3 fatty acids work to stop inflammation and provides scientists with information they might use to manipulate the inflammatory process before it begins.
Norris PC, Dennis EA. Omega-3 fatty acids cause dramatic changes in TLR4 and purinergic eicosanoid signaling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; 109(22): 8517-22