Fatty acids may help treat chronic lung disease
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Healthy fats found in fish and
vegetable oils may help ease the inflammation that marks
chronic lung disease, preliminary research suggests.
In a small study of adults with chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), Japanese researchers found that
supplements of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to improve
patients’ breathing difficulties — possibly by countering the
airway inflammation seen in the disease.
Dr. Wataru Matsuyama and colleagues at Kagoshima University
Hospital report the findings in the medical journal Chest.
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, are found
largely in oily fish, and to a lesser extent in flaxseed,
walnuts, soybeans and canola oil. Research has suggested that
these fats — particularly fish oils — may help lower the risk
of heart disease and other ills, possibly due to their
COPD is a group of serious lung diseases that includes
emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Since airway inflammation is
a major feature of these illnesses, Matsuyama’s team theorized
that omega-3 supplements might improve patients’ symptoms.
To investigate, they randomly assigned half of the 64
patients to drink a liquid supplement rich in omega-3 fats each
day; the other half drank a supplement containing omega-6 fats,
another type of polyunsaturated fat found in many foods,
including vegetable oils and meat.
After two years, patients in the omega-3 supplement group
showed an overall improvement on tests that measured their
breathing during a short bout of exercise. At the same time,
levels of certain inflammatory proteins in their blood and
mucus generally declined — suggesting that the improvements in
lung capacity arose from the anti-inflammatory effects of the
Though larger, longer studies are needed to confirm the
results, the researchers note that the findings are in line
with American Heart Association recommendations to eat a diet
rich in omega-3 fats for heart health.
“Taken together, we recommend nutritional support with
omega-3 PUFAs for the nutritional treatment of COPD,” they
However, it’s important that people with COPD have a
generally healthy diet as well, according to Matsuyama.
Significant weight loss is a common complication of COPD and
patients need not only omega-3 fatty acids, but an adequate
diet overall to prevent this, Matsuyama told Reuters Health.
That’s why study patients were given a high-calorie liquid
supplement rather than a pill.
The researchers plan to do another study of a larger group
of patients to see how omega-3 fats affect their long-term
SOURCE: Chest, December 2005.