New Research: Fish Oil Can Turn Bad Inflammation into Healing

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Fish oil and the omega 3 fatty acids it contains are cool. We’ve known for a long time that high quality, concentrated EPA fish oil reduces inflammation. However, now a new study shows that it also increases the signal to stop inflammation and turn on healing.

Inflammation is a very schizophrenic subject in medicine-on the one hand you couldn’t stay alive without it and on the other it’s the cause of many chronic diseases. What gives? Acute inflammation is when your body is trying to heal damaged tissue. Think of it as a fire, but one that creates rather than destroys. When the repair is done, your body gets a signal to turn the inflammation off. When this signal isn’t received, your body continues a low level, inflammatory fire that’s destructive and can lead to everything from arthritis to heart disease. So inflammation is both good and bad all at the same time-depending on whether you flip the “off” switch at the right time.

The molecules that flip the inflammation switch off are called “resolvins” in that they “resolve” inflammation. Resolvins are derived from the components of fish oil (EPA and DHA). Regrettably, in your body they’re made by the same molecular pathway that’s blocked by most modern NSAID drugs that you can buy at the grocery store (Motrin, Advil, Naprosyn, and Aleve). So while fish oil creates the molecule that switches off inflammation, NSAIDs block it’s production, For example, this recent study showed that Ibuprofen blocked the body’s natural anti-inflammatories and decreased the production of resolvins. Not good.

The new study tested the blood levels of resolvins and it’s precursors in patients who took either fish oil, aspirin, or placebo. The fish oil increased the blood levels for this inflammation off switch. While aspirin (the low dose kind recommended for heart disease) usually also increases resolvin levels, adding it in here didn’t increase the levels any further, suggesting that fish oil by itself is a powerful off switch for inflammation. In addition, it only took 5 days to see this effect.

The upshot? Fish oil and healing is a great combination. I’ve blogged before on recommendations for how to buy high quality fish oil that will actually help you. In the meantime, for patients considering regenerative therapies like PRP or stem cells, turning off that pro-inflammatory fire that can sometimes come with stimulated healing is as important as starting the healing cycle, so take your fish oil!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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