High DHA fish oils linked to immune boost in humans

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / stocksnapper
© Getty Images / stocksnapper

Related tags Immune system

Daily supplementation with high DHA fish oil concentrate may support a healthy immune response in middle-aged obese adults, according to data from a new pilot study on humans.

Twelve weeks of supplementation with high-DHA-fish oil concentrate provided by Ohio-based AlaskOmega, Organic Technologies was associated with enhancements in B cell responses, report the researchers in the The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry​. ​B cells are a type of white blood cells that stimulate antibody production but also play a role in cytokine secretion and antigen presentation to T cells.

The study suggests that DHA uniquely contributes to certain aspects of immune function. 

“Animal studies consistently show that omega-3s robustly improve various aspects of immunity, including inflammation,”​ stated Raz Shaikh, PhD, lead investigator of the study and currently Associate Professor of Nutrition at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “To-date, B cell activation has not been well studied in humans with omega-3s and underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We were very excited to observe the immune enhancing properties of high DHA fish oil on B cells in humans.”​ 

Study details

Researchers from the East Carolina University, Organic Technologies, the University of Stirling (UK), the University of Colorado, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recruited 34 obese men and women and randomly assigned them to receive one grams capsules per day of olive oil (control group), fish oil concentrate or high-DHA-fish oil concentrate for weeks.

The results showed that, compared to baseline values, participants receiving the fish oil concentrate experienced reductions in the percentage of circulating memory and plasma B cells, whereas the other supplements had no effect. The researchers did not observe any other differences between the groups post-intervention.

Additional analysis of specific immune system components indicated that the DHA-fish oil concentrate increased secretion of pro-inflammatory molecules such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and the anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10.

“[T]he findings from this pilot study suggest that B-cell activity may be sensitive to n-3 LC-PUFA intervention, warranting more in-depth experiments with a larger cohort,” ​wrote the researchers.


The study was welcomed by Steve Dillingham, global director for Organic Technologies’ AlaskOmega Ingredients, the major sponsor of the study. “This study adds to the body of knowledge that supplementation with a high DHA fish oil concentrate can help support healthy immune systems in select populations. While this pilot study results are certainly encouraging, much more research in this area is warranted,”​ said Dillingham.

Source: The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry
March 2018, Volume 53, Pages 72-80, doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.10.009
“Effects of fish oil concentrates on ex vivo B cell responses of obese subjects upon BCR/TLR stimulation: A pilot study”
Authors: W. Guesdon et al.

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