Fish oil may help boost immunity in some people with certain health
conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and other
autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks the body’s
healthy cells, according to a new study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
The findings suggest 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.
Inflammation is a sign of increased immune system activity so
it’s widely thought that if fish oil fights inflammation, it also may
influence overall immune function.
Researchers at Michigan State
University’s department of food science and human nutrition examined
that influence by studying how the B cells of mice respond to fish oil. B
cells are white blood cells that produce antibodies and call other
immune cells to join the fight when infections occur.
For five weeks, one group of mice was fed a regular diet while
the others had a diet supplemented with fish oil rich in the fatty acid
docosahexaenoic acids (DHA). The researchers found that mice in the fish
oil group had B cells that produced more antibodies and more of the
chemicals that alert other cells to threats.
“Our data showed that the B cells not only weren’t
suppressed—which would be the dogma—but that fish oil even enhanced
their function," said lead researcher Jenifer Fenton. While more
research is needed before the mouse study’s implications for humans
become clear, she said boosting B-cell activity may be good for some
people. “For example, the complication and mortality rate from influenza
is higher among obese individuals, so that could be a situation where
enhancing B-cell function could be useful."
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