Fish Oil Boosts Immune System, Study Suggests

A new study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that instead of suppressing the body’s immune response, fish oil actually enhances the function of B cells – white blood cells that enforce nonspecific and specific immunity.

Fish oil pills (Brown University)

Fish oil pills (Brown University)

Fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids is believed to help prevent disease by reducing inflammation, but until now, scientists were not entirely sure about its immune enhancing effects. The new study helps provide clarity on this by showing that docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil enhances B cell activity, challenging the notion that fish oil is only immunosuppressive.

This discovery is important as it shows that fish oil does not necessarily reduce the overall immune response to lower inflammation, possibly opening the doors for the use of fish oil among those with compromised immune systems.

“Fish oil may have immune enhancing properties that could benefit immunocompromised individuals,” said senior study author Dr Jenifer Fenton from Michigan State University.

Dr Fenton’s team used two groups of mice. One group was fed a control diet, and the other was fed a diet supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil for 5 weeks.

B cells were harvested from several tissues and then stimulated in culture. The team then looked for markers of B cell activation on the cell surface, B cell membrane changes, and B cell cytokine production.

The scientists found that docosahexaenoic acid-enriched fish oil enhanced B cell activation and select antibody production, which may actually aid immune responses associated with pathogen clearance, while possibly dampening the totality of the inflammatory response.

“This work confirms similar findings on fish oil and B cells from our lab, and moves us one step closer to understanding the immune enhancing properties of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid,” said co-author Dr Raza Shaikh from East Carolina University.

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Bibliographic information: Eric A. Gurzell et al. 2013. DHA-enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances in vivo and ex vivo B cell function. J Leukoc Biol 93: 463-470; doi: 10.1189/jlb.0812394