Dietary supplementation with eicosapentaenoic acid, but not with other long-chain n-3 or n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, decreases natural killer cell activity in healthy subjects aged >55 y

F Thies, G Nebe-von-Caron, J R Powell, P Yaqoob, E A Newsholme, P C Calder
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001, 73 (3): 539-48

BACKGROUND: Animal studies showed that dietary flaxseed oil [rich in the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)], evening primrose oil [rich in the n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)], and fish oil [rich in the long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] can decrease natural killer (NK) cell activity. There have been no studies of the effect on NK cell activity of adding these oils to the diet of humans.

OBJECTIVE: Our objective was to determine the effect of dietary supplementation with oil blends rich in ALA, GLA, arachidonic acid (AA), DHA, or EPA plus DHA (fish oil) on the NK cell activity of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

DESIGN: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, parallel study was conducted. Healthy subjects aged 55-75 y consumed 9 capsules/d for 12 wk; the capsules contained placebo oil (an 80:20 mix of palm and sunflower seed oils) or blends of placebo oil and oils rich in ALA, GLA, AA, DHA, or EPA plus DHA. Subjects in these groups consumed 2 g ALA, 770 mg GLA, 680 mg AA, 720 mg DHA, or 1 g EPA plus DHA (720 mg EPA + 280 mg DHA) daily, respectively. Total fat intake from the capsules was 4 g/d.

RESULTS: The fatty acid composition of plasma phospholipids changed significantly in the GLA, AA, DHA, and fish oil groups. NK cell activity was not significantly affected by the placebo, ALA, GLA, AA, or DHA treatment. Fish oil caused a significant reduction (mean decline: 48%) in NK cell activity that was fully reversed by 4 wk after supplementation had ceased.

CONCLUSION: A moderate amount of EPA but not of other n-6 or n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can decrease NK cell activity in healthy subjects.

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