Fish oil is not only good for your heart and your brain, but can also boost your immune system, new research shows.
Michigan State University food scientists have found the beneficial elements in fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids — known as DHA and EPA — activate key immune system functions. As a result, fish oil may be particularly helpful to individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV or undergoing cancer chemotherapy.
"Fish oil may have immune enhancing properties that could benefit immunocompromised individuals," said Jenifer Fenton, a researcher with the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition who helped conduct the study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
Past studies have shown fish oil helps prevent disease by reducing inflammation. But the MSU study is among the first to find it boosts the activity of white blood cells that fight disease.
The findings are based on experiments involving two groups of mice. One group was fed a standard diet, and the other a diet supplemented with DHA-rich fish oil for five weeks. The results showed the mice on fish oil-enriched diets had greater white blood cell activity and other immune system functions.
"This work confirms similar findings on fish oil and [white blood cells] from our lab, and moves us one step closer to understanding the immune enhancing properties of EPA and DHA," said S. Raza Shaikh, a researcher also involved in the work from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at East Carolina University.
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