Omega-3 may reduce inflammatory marker to offer ‘multiple’ health benefits

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Omega-3 may reduce inflammatory marker to offer ‘multiple’ health benefits

Related tags Epidemiology Omega-3 fatty acid

Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce a specific marker of inflammation and confer heart and anti-cancer benefits, according to two new studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The studies focus on the effects of omega-3 on levels of inflammatory biomarkers that are involved in damage to cells called soluble adhesion molecules, particularly soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (sICAM-1). It is generally accepted that low circulating level of sICAM-1 is good.

The first of the two new studies is a meta-analysis by Yang et al.​from the Bethune First Hospital of Jilin University in China. The analysis indicated that omega-3 supplements were associated with reduced levels of sICAM-1, which may contribute to a decrease in the risk of atherosclerosis.

The second study, by Touvier et al.​ from the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris, indicated that increased levels of omega-3 may counteract the pro-carcinogenic action of sICAM-1.

Multiple health benefits

The results were welcomed by Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).

Dr Rice told NutraIngredients-USA: “Without getting into the limitations of the investigations, taken together, the studies support reducing or minimizing sICAM-1 via omega-3 supplementation for multiple health benefits including, but not necessarily limited to, atherosclerosis treatment and prevention, as well as reducing the risk of certain cancers.”

Meta-analysis details

For the meta-analysis Yang et al.​ analyzed 18 randomized clinical trials involving omega-3 supplements and providing data on sICAM-1 concentrations.

Results showed that omega-3 supplements were associated with sICAM-1 reductions in both healthy people and subjects with abnormal blood lipid levels.

“This finding suggests that omega-3 PUFA reduces inflammation by selectively inhibiting monocyte activation rather than endothelial activation,”​ wrote the researchers.

“This protective effect was identified in both healthy subjects and in subjects with dyslipidemia, which supports the notion that omega-3 PUFA can be supplemented to prevent the development and progression of atherosclerosis.”


The Touvier et al​. study investigated how omega-3 intakes could alter sICAM-1 levels and cancer risk by comparing data from 408 people with cancer (so-called cases) and 760 healthy people with similar characteristics (the controls).

Results showed that sICAM-1 levels were indeed related to omega-3 levels, and that this association was seen for different types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer.

In addition, sICAM-1 concentrations were positively associated with cancer risk in people with below average omega-3 intakes, added the Paris-based researchers.

“For the first time, the results of this nested case-control study suggest that omega-3 PUFAs modulate the prospective association between plasma ICAM-1 and cancer risk,” ​they wrote.

“sICAM-1 was associated with an increased cancer risk among subjects with low omega-3 PUFA intakes, whereas no association was observed for subjects with higher omega-3 PUFA intakes.”

Commenting on the potential mechanism by which omega-3 may modulate cancer risk, the researchers note that there are two potential mechanisms that merit attention.

The first is that omega-3s may decrease the expression of adhesion molecules like sICAM-1, while the second may be that omega-3s intervene in the pro-cancer pathway stimulated by ICAM-1, “but with an anticarcinogenic action”.

Source​: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.027805
“Modulation of the association between plasma intercellular adhesion molecule-1 and cancer risk by n−3 PUFA intake: a nested case-control study”
Authors: M. Touvier, E. Kesse-Guyot, V.A. Andreeva, et al.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.025924
“Effects of n–3 PUFA supplementation on plasma soluble adhesion molecules: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”
Authors: Y. Yang, N. Lu, D. Chen

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