Nutrigenomics explains omega-3’s immune health benefits

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Nutrigenomics explains omega-3’s immune health benefits

Related tags: Gene expression, Omega-3 fatty acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid

Omega-3-rich fish oil beneficially affects gene expression, says a new nutrigenomic study that enhances our understanding of the health benefits of omega-3.

The study is said to be the first to show that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) can affect gene expression to a more anti-atherogenic and anti-inflammatory status.

Lead researcher Lydia Afman told NutraIngredients: “The most exciting finding of this study is the demonstration of less pro-inflammatory gene expression profiles in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) after a 6 months fish oil intervention in a healthy elderly population.”

Because PBMCs are immune cells, and play a vital role in inflammation and the development of cardiovascular diseases, the results may go some way to explaining the cardio-protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

In addition to a large body of science linking DHA and EPA to improved cardiovascular health, the omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to reduced risks of certain cancers, good development of a baby during pregnancy, improved joint health, and improved behaviour and mood

Results of the nutrigenomics study are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

Study details

Dr Afman and her co-workers from the Nutrition, Metabolism and Genomics Group at Wageningen University recruited 111 healthy Dutch elderly subjects and randomly assigned them to one of three groups: To consume 1.8 or 0.4 g of EPA plus DHA every day (Lipid Nutrition/Loders Croklaan), or to consume 4.0 grams of high-oleic acid sunflower oil per day, for six months.

Microarray analysis of gene expression in PBMCs revealed that that high EPA plus DHA supplement resulted in altered gene expression of 1040 genes, while the sunflower oil supplement altered gene expression of 298 genes.

“Of these genes, 140 were overlapping between the groups, which resulted in 900 uniquely changed genes in the EPA plus DHA group,”​ said the researchers.

Furthermore, the altered genes were involved in inflammatory- and atherogenic-related pathways, said the researchers.

“These results are the first to show that intake of EPA plus DHA for 26 weeks can alter the gene expression profiles of PBMCs to a more anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic status,”​ conclyuded the researchers.

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a major risk factor for CVD.

Implications for nutrigenomics

Dr Afman told this website: “PBMC gene expression profiles are known to be quite constant within persons but vary between persons in time. Therefore, it is interesting to observe that PBMCs gene expression profiles are susceptible to nutritional changes and represent effects that maybe difficult or even impossible to measure using other techniques.

“PBMC gene expression profiles are therefore promising candidates to be used as biomarkers for nutritional status or systemic metabolic health or - capacity.”

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Volume 90, pages 415-424, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27680
“Fish-oil supplementation induces antiinflammatory gene expression profiles in human blood mononuclear cells”
​Authors:​M. Bouwens, O. van de Rest, N. Dellschaft, M. Grootte Bromhaar, L.C.P.G.M. de Groot, J.M. Geleijnse, M.Muller, L.A. Afman

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