Fish oils, DHA, EPA and inflammation.

Fish oils, DHA, EPA and inflammation.

Fish oil long-chain omega 3 is extremely anti-inflammatory both directly, and indirectly via your microbiome, and now research from Tufts explains the distinct benefits of the two components DHA and EPA.

The University of Gothenburg researchers previously showed (4) that fish oils influenced gut microbiome levels of different bacteria to make anti-inflammatory molecules.

But which is the better? EPA of DHA?

In a small randomised trial (5), the researchers from TUFTS led by Jean Mayer, studied the effects of the two omega-3s in two groups of older adults both with chronic low-grade inflammation and obesity. One group received DHA, the other EPA.

The results showed DHA was the more anti-inflammatory:

   * DHA lowered white blood cell secretion of three types of inflammatory proteins; EPA just one.

   * DHA lowered the genetic expression of four types of inflammatory protein; EPA just one.

However, EPA improved the balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory secretions.

   * DHA reduced levels secretions of anti-inflammatory protein; EPA did not

   * EPA produce metabolites associated with stronger immune effects. 

Stefania Lamon-Fava, one of the team said that it looks like DHA is the more anti-inflammatory, but "that's not the end of the story".

The Many Benefits of Fish oils

Fish oils have long been associated with heart and mental health, longevity and improving the outcome of cancer, even preventing it. For example, it is known that fish oils can have an effect on the telomeres at the ends of DNA chains. The length of telomeres is associated with oxidative stress, poor health, cancer and aging (1).

Another benefit of fish oils (long-chain omega-3) is their ability to reduce the risk of cachexia, and there's a very good argument for always taking fish oils with chemo to prevent this life threatening damage from chemotherapy drugs (2). 

Fish Oils and inflammation

But a major health benefit is their ability to reduce chronic inflammation in the body, which has been shown since 2006 in research (3).

Chronic inflammation is invariably the precursor to chronic illness.

One mechanism is their direct ability to down-regulate an enzyme called Cox-2 known to stimulate localised cellular inflammatory hormones called eicosanoids made in the nuclear envelope of every cell in the body.

First, we had a study from the University of Gothenburg showing that, whereas the consumption of saturated fats can p[roduce a microbiome over-populated by gut bacteria that make inflammatory compounds, fish oils increase colonies of bacteria that make high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds. Feeding animals with a high fat diet, or a fish oil diet resulted in significantly different gut bacteria and fish oils clearly promoted health by stimulating bacteria that made anti-inflammatory compounds (4).

Now, the TUFTS study has explained the relative merits of EPA and DHA.

Chris Woollams, former Oxford University Biochemist and a founder of CANCERactive said, "We have long recommended that almost everybody from the young to the old, should take a daily fish oil supplement, especially those with cancer. People should not confuse fish oil omega-3 with plant omega-3, which really does not have these benefits".

Go To: Report: Chronic Inflammation and Cancer



  1. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial; Brain Behav Immune; 2013 Feb;28:16-24.
  2. Should omega-3 fatty acids be used for adjuvant treatment of cancer cachexia? Clin Nutr ESPEN; 2018 Jun;25:18-25. 
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain; Joseph Charles Maroon; Surge Neurol;  2006 Apr;65(4):326-31
  4. Taking Fish oils increases anti-inflammatory gut bacteria
  5. New study finds fish oil omega-3s EPA and DHA work differently on chronic inflammation; TUFTS;


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