Ward off chronic disease and lower inflammation with Omega-3 fatty acids

New research shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplements can lower inflammation in healthy, but overweight, middle-aged and older adults, suggesting that regular use of these supplements could help protect against and treat certain illnesses.

Incorporating omega-3s into the average diets of older overweight adults helps lower inflammation, which may reduce the risk for inflammatory associated illnesses, including diabetes, arthritis Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, according to a new study published in the Brain, Behaviour and Immunity Journal.

Ohio State University researchers carried out a placebo controlled trial; 138 adults with an average age of 51 years were recruited. The participants were in good health, but were either overweight or obese and lived sedentary lives.

Inflammation tends to accompany excess body fat, so the researchers recruited participants who were most likely high in pro-inflammatory blood compounds at the beginning of the study.

Participants received either a placebo or doses of omega-3 fatty acids in either 1.25 grams or 2.5 grams per day. The supplements had a ratio of the two fish oil fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), of seven to one. This correlates with previous research which suggests that EPA has more anti-inflammatory properties than DHA.

Four months into the trial, participants who took the omega-3 supplements had significantly lower levels of two proteins that are markers of inflammation in their blood (pro-inflammatory cytokines). The 1.25 gram dose group showed an average 10% decrease in the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), and the 2.5 gram dose group’s overall IL-6 dropped by 12%. Whereas those taking a placebo saw an overall 36% increase in IL-6 by the end of the study.

Levels of the cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) also dropped, but in a more modest way, by 0.2% and 2.3% in the low- and high-dose groups, respectively. The placebo group’s TNF-a increased by an average of 12%.

Statistically, there was no significant difference in lowered inflammation between the two doses, but each dose clearly produced cytokine reductions that differed significantly from the placebo group.

However, levels of omega-3 fatty acids in participant’s blood increased according to which dose they consumed, which improved their ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. The typical diet contains between 15 and 17 times more omega-6 than omega-3, a ratio that researchers suggest should be lowered to 4-to-1, or even 2-to-1, to improve overall health.

“This is the first study to show that omega-3 supplementation leads to changes in inflammatory markers in the blood in overweight but otherwise healthy people. In terms of regulating inflammation when people are already healthy, this is an important study, in that it suggests one way to keep them healthy.Omega-3 fatty acids may be both protective so that inflammation doesn’t go up, as well as therapeutic by helping inflammation go down,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

Kiecolt-Glaser also stated, “our research and studies done by others have shown that these two cytokines are clearly related to overall health – and when they’re elevated in the blood, that is not good for overall health. So the more ways we can find to lower them, the better.”

So what does this research tell us? It demonstrates that a higher dose of omega-3 is not necessarily better than a lower dose in regards to prevention of inflammation and that “although omega-3 fatty acids cannot take the place of good health behaviours, people with established inflammatory diseases or conditions may benefit from their use (Kiecolt-Glaser)”.

Here are some easy Omega 3 rich foods you could include in your diet:

  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds (highly heat stable source of omega 3)
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel



Omega Crusted Salmon with Omega Boosted Salad

Serves 2



2 pieces of salmon

2 tbsp chia seeds

2 tbsp flaxseed oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp lemon zest


For the salad

40g sacha inchi seeds, crushed (or walnuts)

2 tbsp Flaxseed oil

1 tbps lemon juice

1 tbsp tahini

2 cups baby spinach leaves

1 cup rocket

2 tbsp parsley



Mix chia seeds and lemon zest on a plate. Rub salmon with flaxseed oil and lemon juice and roll in chia mix.

Fry salmon in a hot pan in a little olive oil, turning only once.


Dressing-mix flaxseed oil, lemon and tahini in a bowl and grind in some salt and pepper to taste.

Place sacha inchi seeds or walnuts, spinach, rocket and parsley in the dressing bowl and toss until well coated.

Serve salmon on a bed of salad and sprinkle with extra chia seeds.




Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Martha A. Belury, Rebecca Andridge, William B. Malarkey, Beom Seuk Hwang, Ronald Glaser (2012) Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation in healthy middle-aged and older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity; 26(6):988-995.



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