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Keywords:

  • cytokine;
  • docosahexaenoic acid;
  • eicosanoid;
  • eicosapentaenoic acid;
  • fish oil;
  • leucocyte

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are n-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and fish oil supplements. These fatty acids are able to inhibit partly a number of aspects of inflammation including leucocyte chemotaxis, adhesion molecule expression and leucocyte-endothelial adhesive interactions, production of eicosanoids like prostaglandins and leukotrienes from the n-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid, production of inflammatory cytokines and T cell reactivity. In parallel, EPA gives rise to eicosanoids that often have lower biological potency than those produced from arachidonioc acid and EPA and DHA give rise to anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving resolvins and protectins. Mechanisms underlying the anti-inflammatory actions of n-3 fatty acids include altered cell membrane phospholipid fatty acid composition, disruption of lipid rafts, inhibition of activation of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B so reducing expression of inflammatory genes, activation of the anti-inflammatory transcription factor NR1C3 (i.e. peroxisome proliferator activated receptor γ) and binding to the G protein coupled receptor GPR120. These mechanisms are interlinked. In adult humans, an EPA plus DHA intake greater than 2 g day–1 seems to be required to elicit anti-inflammatory actions, but few dose finding studies have been performed. Animal models demonstrate benefit from n-3 fatty acids in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and asthma. Clinical trials of fish oil in patients with RA demonstrate benefit supported by meta-analyses of the data. Clinical trails of fish oil in patients with IBD and asthma are inconsistent with no overall clear evidence of efficacy.