The fish oil compound DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has long been known to have anti-inflammatory effects, and now researchers have gained a better understanding of why.
Published in The FASEB Journal, a new study shows that DHA seems to be a vital player in the production of molecules called maresins, which are able to turn "off" inflammation.
"We've known for a long time that DHA tames inflammation, now, we learn exactly how DHA works: via new substances called maresins," Dr. Gerald Weissmann, M.D., who is the editor in chief of The FASEB Journal, where the study was published, said in a statement. "We encounter inflammation almost daily, but our body has ways of turning it off. This is an important step toward understanding exactly [how] this happens. You're likely to be hearing a lot more about maresins if, or when, new therapies arise from this discovery."
Inflammation is not all bad -- it's our bodies' natural response to infection and injury. But when inflammation becomes chronic -- meaning our body is always mounting a defense and won't turn off -- that's when health risks arise. Chronic inflammation has been linked with ills ranging from cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer's, U.S. News reported.
For the new study, researchers from Harvard Medical School, the University of Southern California and the Karolinska Institutet found that a kind of white blood cell called the macrophage converts DHA to make maresins. Maresins then are able to prompt macrophages to turn from an inflammation-causing type to a non-inflammation-causing type.
Earlier this year, research in mice showed that DHA could also boost the body's immune response by increasing activity of the B cell, which is a kind of white blood cell. Those findings, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, were conducted in mice.