Fish oil and probiotics counteract chronic low-grade inflammation
- a typical problem that is seen with ageing, overweight, diabetes and other chronic diseases
Chronic low-grade inflammation has a negative effect on our health. It pummels the body with free radical damage to healthy cells and tissue. Chronic low-grade inflammation is linked to ageing, overweight, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems. In the case of infections, there is also a risk that the immune defense overreacts with hyperinflammation, which can turn out to be very problematic. Now, science has discovered that our gut flora also affects the immune system. Some gut bacteria have a pro-inflammatory effect, while others help fight inflammation. Fish oil’s anti-inflammatory effect involves other mechanisms. Supplements of beneficial gut bacteria, better known as probiotics, and fish oil supplements help increase gut flora diversity. This is good for fighting inflammation, according to a new study published in Nutrients. Another thing to make sure of is to get enough vitamin D.
Acute inflammation is a completely natural and essential response that the immune defense initiates to fight an infection or heal a wound. It is carried out in very tight collaboration between proinflammatory markers, white blood cells, and antibodies that target the enemy with great precision. Once the infection has been combatted and the cell damage is repaired, the immune defense should ideally retract. However, what happens rather often is that the immune system gets the wrong programming signals and continues to maintain chronic, low-grade inflammation.
This is not something that you can feel or register, but the presence of pro-inflammatory markers and free radicals may set the stage for a long list of chronic diseases that include cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and even cancer.
Chronic low-grade inflammation may be a result of acute infections, autoimmune reactions, overweight, ageing, and environmental toxins. Last but not least, it may be because the immune defense has received wrong signals, which can be a result of a disrupted gut flora or lack of specific nutrients.
Nearly one in three Danes has digestive problems
This was demonstrated by a survey conducted by the research institute Epinion. Digestive problems lead to lack of energy and less well-being. It also sets the stage for chronic low-grade inflammation and a variety of diseases.
The gut flora and its impact on inflammation
The gut flora harbors billions of microorganisms that greatly influence our digestive and physical and mental well-being. The different bacteria interact with one another, with the epithelial cells, and with the many immune cells in the intestinal mucosa in order to maintain the right balance in the immunological response. The gut bacteria also produce certain vitamins, neurotransmitters, and other substances that are important for the nervous system and the metabolism
It is therefore imperative that the gut flora has great diversity and the right balance. Some species may be very harmful if they replicate too much or spread to tissues where they don’t belong. Chronic low-grade inflammation therefore hinges on gut flora imbalances.
Some types of gut bacteria (enterobacteria) are able to initiate inflammatory processes by releasing lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from their membrane. LPS cause the immune cells to react violently by forming cascades of proinflammatory cytokines. Inflammation in the intestines may cause local damage but can also result in a leaky gut that causes intolerance towards certain types of food. This causes inflammation in other parts of the body.
Imbalances in the gut flora, the release of LPS, and related inflammation can also increase the risk of becoming overweight and developing diabetes. Antibiotics, unhealthy diets, too much sugar, and lack of fiber and nutrients contribute to the displacement of beneficial bacteria and favor the harmful bacteria, thereby upsetting the delicate balance in the intestinal flora.
On the other hand, supplements of beneficial bacteria can boost the intestinal diversity, displace the harmful bacteria, and reduce inflammation. Lactobacillus bacteria (lactic acid bacteria) that are primarily found in the small intestine and Bifidobacteria that are primarily found in the colon belong to the group of probiotic bacteria that are able to prevent chronic low-grade inflammation caused by LPS from the harmful enterobacteria.
This helps heal the intestinal mucosa and also prevents leaky gut. It is important to stick to a healthy, coarse, and green diet that contains probiotic fibers like inulin and beta-glucan that support the probiotic bacteria. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi also have a beneficial effect on the gut flora because they contain lactic acid bacteria with probiotic properties.
Sources of beneficial probiotic fibers
Inulin: Sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke, onion, garlic, leeks, and asparagus
Beta-glucan: Oats, barley, and certain mushrooms like shiitake
Other good fibers: Whole grain, coarse vegetables such as broccoli and legumes
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil also inhibit inflammation
It has been known for a long time that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, especially EPA and DHA that you get from fish oil. They work by blocking certain proinflammatory markers such as CRP (C-reactive protein), TNF (tumor necrosis factor), and interleukin.
The omega-3 fatty acids are also important for the brain, for moods and for different metabolic processes in our fatty tissue. These processes help reduce the amount of fat that is stored and help the production of anti-inflammatory lipokines.
The omega-3 fatty acids also positively influence insulin production and blood sugar levels. They are even able to affect the gut flora in a positive way and work like probiotics by increasing gut diversity. It is advisable to eat oily fish like herring and free-range salmon from clean waters. A study where type 2 diabetics got 320 mg of EPA and 200 mg of DHA (around one gram of fish oil) for 24 weeks showed a positive effect on waist circumference, glucose metabolism, leptin (satiety hormone), and other parameters.
In some cases, it is necessary to take greater quantities of omega-3 to help fight inflammation. It may require up to 2-4 grams daily, which delivers around 700 - 1,200 mg of EPA.
The synergy effect between probiotics and fish oil
More and more evidence points to the combination of probiotics and fish oil as being better than taking the supplements alone. It is believed that strategies that helps regulate and manipulate the gut flora in a positive way combined with strategies that helps normalize the immune defense is a good way to prevent chronic low-grade inflammation that is a common thread of type 2 diabetes, overweight, and numerous chronic diseases.
When choosing probiotics, make sure that the live bacteria are able to survive the journey through the stomach and the small intestine so they reach the colon alive and are able to colonize the intestine. The diet should also include beneficial fibers that support the gut bacteria.
Fish oil supplements should always be within the safe range in terms of peroxide count and content of environmental toxins.
Note: Remember to get enough vitamin D that has other anti-inflammatory properties. The winter sun at northern latitudes is not strong enough to produce vitamin D so you need to take a high-dosed supplement.
Ashley N. Hutchinson et al. The Potential Effects of Probiotics and ώ-3 Fatty Acids on Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation. Nutrients 2020
Susan Harris. Vitamin D and Inflammation. Jean Mayer. USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University
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