The 2020 pandemic has drawn global attention for almost a year. Even as news of vaccines and improved treatments surfaced, it remains necessary to find simple, ideally nutritional, approaches to reduce the susceptibility or severity of the infection.
Much has been said about vitamin D and zinc, but an important nutrient that has largely been overlooked is the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are mainly found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and herring, as well as in dietary supplements (fish oil, krill oil, algae oil) and can also play a potential role in the fight against COVID-19.
The science behind omega-3 fatty acids
Scientific discoveries about the mechanisms of action of EPA and DHA show that omega-3 fatty acids are very effective at slowing down and even dissolving inflammation.1 Cytokine levels may have something to do with this.
The word “cytokine” comes from the combination of two Greek words – “cyto” means cell and “kine” means movement. Cytokines are certain proteins that are secreted by some immune cells and that attract or activate other immune cells. Cytokines come in many different forms – e.g. B. interleukin (IL), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interferon – and influence the function of many different cell types such as macrophages, monocytes, mast cells and more. Excessive production of these proteins can lead to excessive inflammatory responses such as swelling, pain, and fever, which can ultimately cause the organs (and the entire body) to stop working.
Omega-3 levels have shown a relationship with cytokines. People with chronically higher blood levels of EPA and DHA (hereafter referred to as the “omega-3 index”) have chronically lower blood levels of many cytokines.2 When people receive omega-3 supplements, the cytokine levels slowly decrease This means that the immune – and inflammatory cells produce and secrete fewer cytokines. 3
Omega-3s have been shown to aid some autoimmune problems like arthritis4 and lupus 5, and other benign conditions – like dry eye, which has an inflammatory basis – can also be improved. 6 studies have shown like the omega-3 -Fatty acids interfere with cytokine biology. First, the body can turn EPA and DHA (if present) into a series of molecules that will actively dissolve inflammation once it starts.7 These are known as inflammation-dissolving mediators (Resolvine, Maresine, and Protectine) and which put the brakes on inflammatory responses.
EPA and DHA can also work on the other end and prevent the triggering of an inflammatory response by making subtle changes to the cell membrane architecture, which is used in very complex ways to calm cells down and make them less responsive to inflammatory forces in the body. 8th
Finally, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can also be converted into other compounds that counteract the effects of some pro-inflammatory compounds from arachidonic acid, an important omega-6 fatty acid.9 With a high (versus a low) omega-3 index is a soothing balm for the body in general that soothes the body’s sometimes over-eager attempts to protect itself from infection and injury.
Testing the Omega-3 Index with COVID-19
Knowing what omega-3s can do in cells is nice, but it’s far more important to know what they actually do in real life. Current studies ongoing are investigating whether supplementing people with omega-3s at the first signs of COVID-19 infection will help slow the disease and potentially save lives. Clinical trials take time, but there are other ways to investigate a possible link between omega-3 and COVID-19, such as a recently published one Pilot study That has led to optimism about omega-3 fatty acids.
The study was carried out between scientists at the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) and scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Under the direction of Dr. Arash Asher took advantage of the study that Cedars-Sinai – like many research institutions across the country – has a “biobank” that stores blood from patients who have been hospitalized. The purpose of biobanks is to enable rapid research into diseases such as COVID-19, while strictly protecting patients’ private health information.
In this case, FARI received blood samples from 100 patients admitted to Cedars-Sinai with COVID-19, as well as information on their age, gender and most importantly, how they had behaved in the hospital. The omega-3 index in the samples was analyzed and the results examined in answering the question, “Is a higher omega-3 index associated with a lower risk of death from COVID-19?”
Given that this was a pilot study with a modest number of subjects, the results suggested that high levels of omega-3s corresponded to a lower risk of death.
Of the 14 patients who died in the pilot study, only one was in the highest “quartile” (ie, among the 25 patients with the highest omega-3 index, a value of 5.7% or more). The other 13 were in the group with an omega-3 index below 5.7%. Statistical analysis of the data found that the group with the highest omega-3 index was 75% less likely to die from COVID-19 than the group with an omega-3 index below 5.7%. Although not “statistically significant” by the usual standards, the results as a pilot study were sufficient to require further larger studies to confirm or refute the observations.
Larger study on tap
FARI is keen to do a larger study and take hundreds of blood samples from the biobank to see if a higher omega-3 index is actually related to COVID-19 survival.
Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients that have many health benefits. A constant diet high in EPA and DHA, which increases the omega-3 index well above 5.7% when consistently adhered to, can be a powerful nutritional protection that people can exercise against the scourge of 2020.
William S. Harris, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI). He has been a leading omega-3 fatty acid researcher for 40 years with over 300 papers on fatty acids and health. Harris served on the faculty of three medical schools (Universities of Kansas, Missouri (in Kansas City), and South Dakota) and received five National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants for studying omega-3. He was the co-author of three American Herb Association (AHA) statements on fatty acids and heart health. As a co-inventor of the Omega-3 Index and founder of OmegaQuant Analytics, Harris led the way in raising awareness of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in optimizing health.
1 Calder PC. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes: From Molecules to Humans.” Biochem Soc Trans. 2017; 45: 1105-1115.
2 Fontes JD et al. “Red Blood Cell Fatty Acids and Inflammation Biomarkers: A Cross-sectional Study in a Community Cohort.” Atherosclerosis. 2015; 240: 431- 436.
3 Li K et al. “Effect of marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on C-reactive protein, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha: a meta-analysis.” Plus one. 2014; 9: e88103.
4 Dawczynski C et al. “Docosahexaenoic Acid in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Cross-Over Study of Microalgae versus Sunflower Oil.” Clin Nutr. 2018; 37: 494- 504
5 Wright SA et al. “A randomized interventional study of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on endothelial function and disease activity in systemic lupus erythematosus.” Ann Rheum Dis. 2008; 67: 841- 848.
6 Park J et al. “Effects of the re-esterified triglyceride (rTG) form of omega-3 supplements on dry eye after cataract surgery.” Br J Ophthalmol. 2020. DOI: 10.1136 / bjophthalmol-2020-317164.
7 Serhan CN et al. “Resolvins in Inflammation: Formation of the Pro-Dissolving Superfamily of Mediators.” J Clin Invest. 2018; 128: 2657- 2669.
8 Calder PC. “Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes: Effects, Mechanisms, and Clinical Relevance.” Biochim Biophys Acta. 2015; 1851: 469- 484
9 De Roos B et al. “Long-Chain N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: New Insights into Mechanisms Associated with Inflammation and Coronary Heart Disease.” Br J Pharmacol. 2009; 158: 413- 428