The 2020 pandemic has been attracting global attention for almost a year. Even as news of vaccines and improved treatments emerges, the need remains 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, which are mainly found in oily fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, and herring, as well as in dietary supplements (fish oil, krill oil, algae oil), can also play a potential role in the fight against COVID-19.
The science behind omega-3s
Scientific discoveries about the mechanisms of action of EPA and DHA indicate that the omega-3 fatty acids are very effective in slowing down and even dissolving inflammation.1 The cytokine level could be related to 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. interleukin (IL), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interferon – and affect 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 organs (and the entire body) to stop working.
Omega-3 levels have shown a relationship with cytokines. People with chronically high blood levels of EPA and DHA (hereafter referred to as the “omega-3 index”) have chronically lower blood levels of many cytokines.2 In addition, cytokine levels slowly decrease when people are given omega-3 supplements, which means that the immune and inflammatory cells produce and secrete fewer cytokines. 3
Omega-3s have been shown to aid some autoimmune problems such as arthritis4 and lupus5, and to improve other benign conditions – such as dry eye, which has an inflammatory basis – 6 studies have shown how the omega-3s Fatty acids influence cytokine biology. First, the body can convert EPA and DHA (if present) into a number of molecules that actively dissolve inflammation as soon as it begins.7 These are known as inflammation-dissolving mediators (resolvins, maresins, and protectors) and they slow down inflammatory responses.
EPA and DHA can also work at the other end and prevent the initiation of an inflammatory response by making subtle changes in cell membrane architecture, which in a very complex way serves to calm cells down and make them less susceptible 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 derived from arachidonic acid, an important omega-6 fatty acid. 9-3 index is a calming balm for the body in general which 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. 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: B. a recently published Pilot study that has sparked optimism about omega-3 fatty acids.
The study was between researchers of the Institute for Fatty Acid Research (FARI) and scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The study, led by Arash Asher, MD, capitalized on the fact that Cedars-Sinai – like many research institutions across the country – has a “biobank,” a place that stores leftover blood samples from hospitalized patients. The purpose of biobanks is to enable rapid research into diseases such as COVID-19, which strictly protects patients’ private health information.
In this case, FARI received blood samples from 100 patients admitted to Cedars-Sinai with COVID-19, along with information on age, gender and most importantly, how they behaved in the hospital. The omega-3 index in the samples was analyzed and the results examined to answer 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 indicated that high omega-3 levels corresponded with a lower risk of death.
Of the 14 patients who died in the pilot study, only one was in the highest “quartile” (that is, among the 25 patients with the highest omega-3 index, a value of 5.7% or higher). 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 those 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 that will take hundreds of blood samples from the biobank to see if a higher omega-3 index is really linked to COVID-19 survival.
Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients that have many health benefits. A steady diet high in EPA and DHA – which, if strictly adhered to, can raise the omega-3 index well over 5.7% – can ultimately be a strong nutritional shield 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 has served on the faculty of three medical schools (Universities of Kansas, Missouri (in Kansas City), and South Dakota) and has received five National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants to study 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 is a leader in raising awareness of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in optimizing health.
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2 Fontes JD et al. “Red Blood Cell Fatty Acids and Inflammation Biomarkers: A Cross-sectional Study in a Community-Based Cohort.” Arteriosclerosis. 2015; 240: 431-436.
3 LiK et al. “Effect of polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids from the sea on C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha: a meta-analysis.” Plus one. 2014; 9: e88103.
4 DawczynskiC et al. “Docosahexaenoic Acid in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Cross-Over Study of Microalgae vs. Sunflower Oil.” Clin Nutr. 2018; 37: 494-504.
5 Wright SA et al. “A randomized intervention study with polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids on endothelial function and disease activity in systemic lupus erythematosus.” Ann Rheum Dis. 2008; 67: 841-848.
6 ParkJ 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 RoosB 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.