J Am Coll Nutr 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505
The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, D.C.
Among the fatty acids, it is the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) which possess the most potent immunomodulatory activities, and among the omega-3 PUFA, those from fish oil-eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-are more biologically potent than alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Some of the effects of omega-3 PUFA are brought about by modulation of the amount and types of eicosanoids made, and other effects are elicited by eicosanoid-independent mechanisms, including actions upon intracellular signaling pathways, transcription factor activity and gene expression.
Animal experiments and clinical intervention studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Coronary heart disease, major depression, aging and cancer are characterized by an increased level of interleukin 1 (IL-1), a proinflammatory cytokine.
Similarly, arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and lupus erythematosis are autoimmune diseases characterized by a high level of IL-1 and the proinflammatory leukotriene LTB(4) produced by omega-6 fatty acids.
There have been a number of clinical trials assessing the benefits of dietary supplementation with fish oils in several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in humans, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches.
Many of the placebo-controlled trials of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefit, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.