Does Fish Oil Weaken the Immune System?

Question: from Gilbert

On your webpage I read that “The intake of fish oil has been proven to be beneficial for the body’s immune function

However on another website I found this alarming observation:

Taking large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids may be unwise for those with weakened immunity. Researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia, have been studying omega-3s for many years now and know that one of their effects is to damp down inflammation. That’s why fish oils - rich in omega-3s - often benefit those with arthritis, a painful inflammatory condition of the joints. Yet the inflammatory response is a key component of the immune system in fighting infection.

The Missouri team studied how mice responded to bacterial infection when given diets containing either fish oil or no fish oil. Those on fish oil were slower to respond to the infection and more likely to die. This doesn’t mean you should throw away your supplements, but be aware that very large doses may compromise your ability to fight infection - especially if you have reason to believe your immune system isn’t as strong as it might be.

The researchers are trying to better understand how omega-3s undermine the immune system - and may then be able to figure out ways of preventing this from happening.

Comment: from Warren Matthews of Xtend-Life

Joanna will answer this but I would just like to make a comment and that is you have to really be careful about taking some of these studies seriously particularly when it is one using rats to get a negative result. Sometimes the researchers use doses that are so high in relative terms that they would never occur in humans in real like. Our recommendations of 2 – 4 soft gels a day is conservative and would never initiate a response such as was observed in that study

Answer: from Joanna (medical nutritionist for Xtend-Life)

I haven’t been able to locate the exact study details as yet for the study referred to, so I cannot comment on the context of the details, the dosages used in study, whether it was omega 3s generally or EPA or DHA used, and so on. There are many factors that could bring about such comments.

However, what I can do for the moment is say that the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the use of Omega 3 DHA as an immune system aid, as well as many other beneficial factors, is of paramount importance. You can find many of these studies and this information simply by doing a general search.

Re factual comments on the subject, I can tell you that fatty acids, particularly the highly polyunsaturated ones in the omega-6 and omega-3 families, help to actually regulate immune and inflammatory responses. In general, the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid arachidonic acid is mainly pro-inflammatory and the marine omega-3s, EPA and DHA, are anti-inflammatory. This explains why so many inflammatory conditions arise, as they are contributed to by over consumption of omega-6 - widely available in our modern diets - and under consumption of omega 3, more so DHAs, as these are rare in our modern diets.

Omega-3s help to regulate the immune system, so for overactive immune systems that are producing excess inflammation, making inflammatory defences worse, leading to such conditions as chronic arthritis, Omega-3s are proven beneficial.

An example study in providing EPA and DHA to men for 12 weeks indicated that “…..consuming considerable amounts of marine omega-3 fatty acids does not compromise immune function in either young or older men. Because marine omega-3s have significant benefits in heart health and other conditions, worries about impaired immunity should not discourage greater consumption of them, as is now recommended by several health organizations.”

The all-important omega-3 fats are essential immune boosters, as they work by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that eat up bacteria. These fats also help strengthen cell membranes, thereby speeding up healing and strengthening resistance to infection in the body.

The key link between fatty acids and immune function is the production of eicosanoids. These eicosanoids can be synthesised from both omega-6 and omega-3, but then have different effects on inflammation. Following DHA supplementation, higher synthesis rates of mediators of the omega-3-series can be observed.
Thus DHA has a variety of positive immune-modulating effects.

Many studies reiterate these findings, to the point where Omega 3 DHA and EPA is even recommended for infant and fetal development, on both a physical and neurological scale.

I hope this helps a little. If I can find the actual study referred to I may be able to comment further. Bear in mind that the study was small, on mice only, and the conditions, dosages and elements are not released in this excerpt. All of which have major bearings on findings. Also bear in mind that it is a one-off study, in relation to the many excerpts and full study articles relating to and confirming Omega 3 and DHA positive immune regulating uses.

Omega 3 DHA and EPA has even been tested by the military with positive results for immune system boosting properties. These studies are available to view by clicking here:,M1

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Originally posted 2007-12-18 11:45:42. We hope you have enjoyed this Post From the Past!

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