December 13, 2005

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
anti-inflammatory effects.

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
fatty acids.

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.