According to a pilot study from Los Angeles, patients with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood are 75 percent less likely to die from a COVID-19 infection. The scientists behind the study assume it is because of the anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3 fatty acids and their ability to regulate the immune defense, which is often completely derailed in serious cases of COVID-19. The scientists also mention other nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties.
We get the essential omega-3 fatty acids from our diet. The two omega-3 forms, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), are found in our cell membranes where they have several physiological functions. Oily fish and fish oil contain EPA and DHA and the body can easily utilize these two types. The different types of omega-3 fatty acids work in an intricate biochemical balance and it is vital to get them in the correct ratio. If we get too little omega-3 it sets the stage for certain imbalances, and we risk that the immune defense overreacts with cytokine storm and hyperinflammation, which can make a COVID-19 infection complicated and potentially life-threatening.
Modern diets contain far too little omega-3 and that may have a number of serious health consequences.
Unusual COVID-19 situation resulted in early publishing
The pilot study was carried out at the prestigious Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, USA. The researchers drew blood samples from 100 patients who were being treated for COVID-19. They analyzed the blood samples to determine their content of EPA and DHA using an index that is developed by Dr. William Harris, one of the scientists involved in the study. According to Harris, this is the first time he has publicized a study result before having it peer-reviewed, and the argument is that people need the information as early as possible in order to benefit from the data under these somewhat unusual COVID-19 circumstances. Besides, omega-3 fatty acids are perfectly safe even in higher quantities.
Only one death among the patients with the highest omega-3 levels
The 100 COVID-19 patients were ranked in four groups, depending on how much omega-3 they had in their blood. Only one patient died in the group with the highest omega-3 levels. After adjusting for age and gender, the scientists concluded that patients with the highest omega-3 levels in their blood had a 75% lower risk of dying of a COVID-19 infection compared with the patients who had the lowest levels. Put differently, the relative risk of dying of COVID-19 was around four times higher among the patients with the lowest levels of omega-3.
Lead investigator Dr. Arash Asher points to certain limitations in this study and says that more research is needed. Still, the results look promising. It is already known that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can lower the risk of infections such as COVID-19 becoming complicated and life-threatening. It is not the coronavirus itself that is harmful, it is when it causes the immune defense to overreact and start attacking healthy tissue.
Other anti-inflammatory nutrients
Their findings are supported by other studies showing that higher blood levels of vitamin D, selenium, and zinc help the body stave off coronavirus. Vitamin D and zinc are important for the immune system for several reasons, one of them being their anti-inflammatory properties. This helps counteract the hyperinflammation and cytokine storm that have been observed in complicated cases of COVID-19
The researchers behind the new study were surprised by their results, as they only analyzed the omega-3 content in the blood of 100 patients. Dr. William Harris explained that the science team had not expected to see anything particular because of the limited number of participants. However, the large differences in omega-3 levels and number of deaths speak for themselves.
Arash Asher et al. Blood omega-3 fatty acids and death from COVID-19: A Pilot Study. medRxiv 2021
Hank Schultz. Patients with more omega-3s in blood less likely to die from COVID-19, pilot study finds. NUTRAingredients.com 12-Jan-2021
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Understanding how omega-3 dampens inflammatory reactions. ScienceDaily 2017
James J. Dicolantonio and James H. O´Keefe. The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders. Nutrients. 2020
Arash Moghaddam et al. Selenium Deficiency is Associated with Mortality Risk from COVID-19. Nutrients 16 July 2020
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