Posted on Jul 21, 2023, 2 p.m.
Findings of a study recently published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine provide the strongest evidence to date of the association and importance of including omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. The study indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for maintaining lung health according to evidence from the large multi-faceted supported by the NIH.
“We know a lot about the role of diet in cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but the role of diet in chronic lung disease is somewhat understudied,” said corresponding author Patricia A. Cassano, Ph.D., director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “This study adds to growing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids, which are part of a healthy diet, may be important for lung health too.”
To learn more about how omega-3 fatty acids may help with prevention efforts towards lung disease, the researchers developed a 2 part study to investigate the link between omega-3 fatty acid levels in the blood and lung function over time.
The first part involved data from 15,063 adults who were enrolled in the NHLBI Pooled Cohorts Study which is a collection of studies that helps researchers study the determinants of personalized risk for chronic lung diseases. Participants had an average age of 56 years old, were generally healthy at the beginning of the study with no evidence of chronic lung disease, and were followed for an average of 7 years and up to 20 years.
This longitudinal study showed that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood were associated with a reduced rate of lung function decline. The strongest associations were observed for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is found in high levels in fatty fish as well as in dietary supplements.
The second part analyzed genetic data from over 500,000 participants who were enrolled in the UK Biobank, looking at certain genetic markers in the blood as a proxy for dietary omega-3 fatty acids levels to see how they correlate with lung health. Results showed that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood (including DHA) were associated with better lung function.
Both parts of this study only included healthy adults, as part of this ongoing project the researchers are collaborating with the COPDGene Study to examine levels of omega-3 fatty acids in relation to the rate of lung function decline among those with COPD (including heavy smokers) to determine if the same beneficial associations can be found.
“We’re starting to turn a corner in nutritional research and really moving toward precision nutrition for treating lung diseases,” said study first author Bonnie K. Patchen, Ph.D., a nutritionist and member of Cassano’s research team at Cornell. “In the future, this could translate into individualized dietary recommendations for people at high risk for chronic lung disease.”
The researchers noted that the Dietary Guideline for Americans recommends that people consume at least 2 servings of fish per week, which is a goal that most Americans do not reach. In addition to obtaining omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and fish oil, other good sources include supplements, nuts, seeds, plant oils, and certain fortified foods.
“This large population-based study suggests that nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties may help to maintain lung health,” said James P. Kiley, Ph.D., director of the NHLBI’s Division of Lung Diseases. “More research is needed, since these findings raise interesting questions for future prospective studies about the link between omega-3 fatty acids and lung function.”
This study was supported by NHLBI award R01HL149352 and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases award T32DK007158. The NHLBI Pooled Cohorts Study was supported by NIH/NHLBI awards R21HL121457, R21HL129924, and K23HL130627. For full details on funding information, please see the published journal article.
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