Cold and Flu
: Omega-3s & Immunity
By Michael T. Murray, ND
A recent study showed that women who consume fish oil during pregnancy may decrease the number of colds that their babies contract early in life. Cold symptoms occurred 24 percent less often among babies whose mothers took docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Symptoms also resolved faster for the supplement group.
These results aren't surprising. They're just another addition to the growing body of evidence that highlights the critical roles long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA play in human health.
A Cellular Approach
How can omega-3s improve immune function? Through their effects on cell membranes, including white blood cells. Every cell in the body needs homeostasis -- a constant internal environment. And a healthy cell membrane, the wall between the internal cell and the outside, is key. Without this membrane, cells lose their ability to hold water and vital nutrients, as well as the ability to communicate.
Cell membranes are composed chiefly of fatty acids derived from the diet. As a result, the composition of cell membranes -- and the resulting structure, function, and integrity -- can be influenced by dietary changes. A diet composed mostly of saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans-fatty acids produces cell membranes that are much less fluid in nature than the membranes of people who eat optimum levels of monounsaturated fat and EPA and DHA from fish oils.
Fish Oils and White Blood Cells
In addition to their critical role in cell membrane health, omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to impact immune function by:
- Regulating gene expression of white blood cells, which helps regulate proper immune function.
- Reducing the production of inflammatory compounds that can damage the immune system.
- Improving the manner in which immune cells communicate with each other, leading to improved immune system function.
The body also transforms EPA and DHA into compounds known as prostaglandins, which carry out many important tasks including regulating inflammation. They also help maintain blood pressure and regulate heart, digestive, and kidney function.
Through their effects on prostaglandins, omega-3s can mediate many physiological processes, making them useful in virtually every disease state.
One of the major advances in nutritional medicine has been the development of fish oil supplements that contain highly concentrated forms of omega-3s while being free of lipid peroxides, heavy metals, and environmental contaminants. These "pharmaceutical grade" supplements are so very superior to earlier fish oil products that they are literally revolutionizing nutritional medicine.
For general health, the recommended dosage is 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA daily. Read the label carefully: You want to get 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA, not 1,000 mg of fish oil. For therapeutic purposes such as reducing inflammation and allergies or lowering triglyceride levels, the dosage recommendation is usually 3,000 mg of EPA and DHA daily.
Dr. Michael T. Murray is one of the world's leading authorities on natural medicine and the author of more than 30 bestselling books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
He is a graduate and former faculty member, and serves on the Board of Regents, of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington.
© 2015 doctormurray.com