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Study shows omega-3 fatty acids boost immunity

By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services

Dr. S. Raza Shaikh
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Sept. 27, 2013)   —   New research at East Carolina University suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may have potential applications for combating infections in obese people.

The study, led by Dr. S. Raza Shaikh, an assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, is the cover story of the latest issue of the Journal of Lipid Research and is published online at

Researchers found that giving omega-3 fatty acid-enriched fish oil to lean mice boosts antibody production and increases the levels of B cells, a type of white blood cell vital to the immune system.

This finding led researchers to test the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on mice consuming high-fat diets that contribute to obesity. The rationale was that obese humans suffer from many complications, including poor humoral immunity to infections. The data showed that mice consuming a high-fat diet had lowered antibody production, which could be revived with dietary supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids.

Humoral immunity is the part of the immune system that produces antibodies from B cells to combat infection.

"Our data open the possibility of developing omega-3 fatty acids for simultaneously suppressing inflammation and boosting antibody production in humans, which has benefits for the obese population and possibly the aged," said Shaikh, the senior author on the study.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health to Shaikh and Dr. Gavin Reid, a co-investigator from Michigan State University.

In April, Shaikh and his collaborators published research in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggesting that instead of suppressing the body’s immune response, fish oil actually improves the function of B cells.

Last year, Shaikh received the Early Career Award at the International Society for Fatty Acids and Lipids for his work linking the biophysical aspects of omega-3 fatty acids to immunity.


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2482