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Study shows fish oil can boost immune system

Dr. S. Raza Shaikh
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Apr. 10, 2013)   —   Fish oil, a common dietary supplement touted for lowering triglycerides and suppressing inflammation, might also help boost the immune system, according to researchers at East Carolina University and Michigan State University.

New research published in the April issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that instead of suppressing the body's immune response, fish oil actually improves the function of B cells, a type of white blood cell vital to the immune system.

Fish oil rich in docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, is widely believed to help prevent disease by reducing inflammation. Until now, scientists were not entirely sure about its immune effects. The new report helps clarify this action by showing that DHA-rich fish oil increases B cell activity, challenging the notion that fish oil is only immunosuppressive. This discovery is important as it shows that fish oil may have clinical use among those with compromised immune systems.

"This work confirms similar findings on fish oil and B cells from our lab recently published in the Journal of Lipid Resarch and moves us one step closer to understanding the immune-enhancing properties of EPA and DHA," said Dr. S. Raza Shaikh, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU and co-author of the study.

In the study, researchers used two groups of mice. One group was fed a control diet, and the other was fed a diet supplemented with DHA-rich fish oil for five weeks. Researchers harvested B cells from several tissues and then stimulated them in culture. They then looked for markers of B cell activation on the cell surface, B cell membrane changes and B cell cytokine production.

They found that DHA-enriched fish oil increased B cell activation and select antibody production, which may actually aid immune responses associated with pathogen clearance.

The study, "DHA-enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances ex vivo and in vivo B cell function," is available online at Graduate student Heather Teague and research specialist Mitch Harris also contributed to the study and are listed as co-authors.

Last year, Shaikh received the Early Career Award at the International Society for Fatty Acids and Lipids for his work involving omega-3 fatty acids and the body's immune system.


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2482