Omega-3 fatty acids show anti-inflammatory potential

October 12, 2012

According to a new US study, adequate omega-3 fatty acid intakes can reduce inflammation processes in overweight adults and may positively influence disease initiation, progression and resolution.

To determine whether omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can decrease the production of inflammatory markers (e.g., interleukin-6) and depressive symptoms, the randomized controlled trial included 138 healthy older adults (average age: 51 years) who were sedentary and overweight (1). Every day for four months the participants received either 2.5 g or 1.25 g of omega-3 fatty acids, mirroring the typical American diet, or a placebo. The study results showed that serum concentrations of interleukin-6 decreased by 10% and 12% in the low-dose and high-dose omega-3 fatty acid groups, respectively, compared to a 36% increase in the placebo group. Similarly, the low-dose and high-dose n-3 groups showed a modest reduction of 0.2% and 2.3% in concentrations of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, compared to a 12% increase in the control group. Depressive symptoms were quite low at baseline and did not change significantly in response to supplemen-tation.

The researchers commented that although omega-3 fatty acids cannot take the place of good health beha-viors, like exercise, individuals who are at risk because of established inflammatory diseases or conditions may profit from their use. The reduction of inflammation in overweight people could have broad health benefits.

Chronic inflammation is thought to be a robust and reliable predictor of all-cause mortality in older adults. Proinflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, play a role in coronary heart disease, depression, type II diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, periodontal disease, and frailty and functional decline (2). Fish, the prime source for the long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, i.e. eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has generated considerable interest as a potential anti-inflammatory food. The strongest randomized controlled trials supporting the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids have come from studies with older, hypertriglyceridemic or diabetic individuals with elevated inflammatory markers (3).


  1. Kiecolt-Glaser J. K. et al. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation in healthy middle-aged and older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2012; 26(6):988–995.
  2. Ferrucci L. et al. Relationship of plasma polyunsaturated fatty acids to circulating inflammatory markers. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2006; 91:439–446.
  3. Yusof H. M. et al. Influence of very long-chain n-3 fatty acids on plasma markers of inflammation in middle-aged men. Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fatty Acids. 2008; 78:219–228.