Study Finds Fish Oil May Actually Boost, Not Harm, Immune System

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

By now it´s nearly become common knowledge that fish oils carry plenty of health benefits for the body. Oils rich in DHA and EPA, for instance, have already been found to reduce inflammation, thereby preventing certain diseases.

Researching these DHA and EPA-rich oils even further, Jennifer Fenton, Ph.D., M.P.H and researcher with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan has found evidence that fish oil can also boost the immune system by enhancing the activity of B Cells. Dr. Fenton´s new report will be in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.

Dr. Fenton´s research discovered that fish oil encourages white blood cell activity and could potentially boost the immune system. Until now it had been suspected that while fish oils may be able to prevent certain diseases, it also suppresses the immune system.

However, with the results of this new study, doctors could begin prescribing fish oils to patients who have had their immune systems compromised.

In her research, Dr. Fenton and colleagues studied two groups of mice. The first group was given a diet rich in DHA and EPA-rich fish oil for five weeks. The second group of mice was only fed a control diet. After the five week study was over, the researchers harvested B cells from the mice and grew them in a culture. The B cells from the mice that had been fed a diet rich in fish oil showed more activity than the cells of those on the control diet.

B cells are part of a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes that play a key role in the body natural immune response system.

The researchers found that the membranes of the B cells changed as a result of this short five-week, fish-oil-rish diet. The study also found that mice given the DHA diet saw increased antibody production, leading the researchers to believe that fish oil may actually serve to strengthen the immune system.

A December 2012 study similarly found that fish oil can help the immune systems of marathon runners before and after the big race.

In a study published by the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Brazilian researchers proved that fish oil could stave off the usual illnesses experienced after a long footrace.

The research team had a group of marathoners take supplements with DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, 60 days before a marathon. Another group of runners were not given the supplements, and the two groups were compared following the race. Both groups were found to have experienced “cell death,” a common post-marathon effect according to Runners World.

Yet those who had taken the fish oil supplements saw increased white cell growth before and after the race. Furthermore, their production of cytokines, a class of proteins thought to boost the immune system, had not declined. The runners who had not taken the fish oil saw their cytokine levels drop and experienced a higher degree of cell death.

These runners were able to see these results after taking only 3 grams of fish oil supplements every day for 60 days.