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Groundbreaking Study Reveals New Mechanism Behind Fish Oil's Health Benefits

September 2012

By Logan Bronwell

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease

New evidence reveals that people with atherosclerosis have reduced levels and function of pro-resolution molecules, which helps explain their vulnerability to the inflammation that causes the disease.33

Boosting levels of these pro-resolution molecules would be especially important to people with cardiovascular disease because they have been found to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, block clot-promoting platelet activation, prevent heart arrhythmias, prevent vascular inflammation and improve vascular function, and protect the heart muscle following a heart attack.34-39 That immense spectrum of action has led some researchers to describe omega-3s as a "polypill," capable of attacking multiple targets of cardiovascular health at once.34,40

Human studies of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil in individuals with cardiovascular disease reveal the following important effects:

  • People with the highest blood levels of the EPA have about a 50% lower risk of congestive heart failure compared to those with the lowest levels, and survival in heart failure patients is enhanced by 35% in those with the highest levels of omega-3s.41,42
  • Supplementing with 300 mg EPA and 1,500 mg DHA from fish oil significantly improves electrical parameters in the hearts of people with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous heart arrhythmia.43
  • Two grams/day of omega-3s yielding 850 to 882 mg of EPA and DHA nearly doubles the likelihood of successfully treated paroxysmal atrial fibrillation one year after electrical cardioversion treatment.44
  • 2,000 mg/day of omega-3s decreases triglyceride levels by 21% and improves endothelial function in a fashion similar to that of the lipid-lowering drug fenofibrate.45
  • Supplementing with approximately 1,860 mg EPA and 1,500 mg DHA, significantly increases heart muscle pumping ability and gives a survival advantage to people with chronic heart failure, improving endothelial function and lowering the inflammatory mediator IL-6.46
  • Adding 1,800 mg/day of EPA to statin treatment prevents the progression of arterial stiffness more effectively than statins alone.47
  • Blood pressure spikes from mental stress can be reduced by supplementing with 1,000 mg EPA and 400 mg DHA.48

Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation is a type of atrial fibrillation in which the irregular heartbeat occurs every so often. The heart eventually returns to its normal rhythm. It is hard to predict when episodes of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation will occur, and the causes are generally unknown. About 1 in 4 people with this condition will eventually develop permanent atrial fibrillation. Recent studies showing that EPA/DHA supplements double electrical cardioversion treatment efficacy make omega-3 supplements an exciting adjuvant approach in the control of atrial fibrillation.

Lung Disease: Asthma and COPD

Lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are well known to involve out-of-control inflammation.49-51 Recent discoveries reveal that asthmatics have reduced production of pro-resolution molecules.12,49,52 Other studies have found that experimental animals treated with these omega-3 derivatives have less severe asthma attacks.53-55

Those observations have led to experiments showing that supplementation with fish oils containing omega-3s boosts tissue levels of pro-resolution molecules, with marked improvement of asthmatic symptoms.53,56,57

It is becoming clear that the abnormal inflammation in asthma begins in utero, before a child is born58—possibly because of inadequate amounts of the pro-resolution molecules derived from omega-3s. This has led to intense interest in supplementing pregnant women with fish oil to prevent asthma and allergies in their offspring.58,59

Over the past decade, higher-dose omega-3-rich fish oil supplements have been used with remarkable success in reducing inflammation and the severity of asthma and COPD in humans:

  • Supplementing with 1,000 mg/day EPA and 2,000 mg/day DHA from fish oil reduced levels of inflammatory cytokines in newborns; infants of supplemented mothers had a 3-fold lower risk of positive skin testing for egg allergy, and less severe eczema in later life.59
  • A long-term follow-up of pregnant women supplemented with 320 mg EPA and 230 mg DHA from fish oil revealed a 63% reduction in the rate of asthma in their children, and an 87% reduction in the rate of allergic asthma.58
  • Supplementing with fish oil containing 3,200 mg of EPA and 2,200 mg of DHA per day in athletes with exercise-induced asthma improved their pulmonary function nearly 5-fold, while lowering levels of inflammatory cytokines.60
  • In non-athletes, 3,200 mg/day of EPA and 2,000 mg/day of DHA improved lung function to the point that exercise-induced asthma was no longer diagnosable, and led to a significant reduction in the use of asthma medications.61
  • Children with a high risk of asthma had a 10% reduction in coughing over a 3-year study of omega-3 supplementation.63
  • Children with moderate asthma who took omega-3 supplements experienced marked improvements in asthma symptoms and lung function.64
  • Following omega-3 supplementation, COPD patients experienced significant improvements in difficulty breathing, oxygen saturation in their blood, and in the distance they could walk in six minutes.51



Inflammation is widely recognized as a major contributor to chronic neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's; it is an active component of damage from strokes and other vascular diseases of the brain.65

Studies now show that fish oil-derived pro-resolution molecules play an important role in stopping neuro-inflammation.65,66 That's leading to widespread hope that these mediators might help prevent and resolve some of the most heartbreaking conditions of aging.67-69

Extensive data exist on the role of omega-3 (especially DHA) supplementation in the cognitive decline of aging. Here are some of the most compelling findings:

  • Reduced intake of DHA produces faster rates of cognitive decline and more rapid development of dementia.70
  • DHA supplementation improves moderately severe dementia that arises from certain kinds of strokes.71
  • Daily supplementation of 1,700 mg of DHA and 600 mg of EPA in patients with Alzheimer's disease produced a reduction in the rate of decline on the mini-mental status exam, but only in patients with early, mild disease.68 This study shows the importance of routine supplementation before developing symptoms.
  • Daily supplementation of 1,700 mg of DHA and 600 mg of EPA was shown to produce significant increases in appetite and body weight in patients with Alzheimer's.72
  • Patients with mild cognitive impairment or age-related cognitive decline showed significant improvements in immediate memory, learning, and attention after up to 900 mg of DHA supplementation.73,74
  • Patients with Parkinson's disease and depression showed a significant reduction in depression scores following 12 weeks of fish oil supplements.75
  • Older women, even those without diagnosed cognitive impairment, showed improved verbal fluency and memory scores, with improved rates of learning, following four months of DHA supplementation.76



One of the deadliest results of unresolved chronic inflammation is cancer.77 Years of study have shown that cancer development is associated with increased amounts of inflammatory cytokines.78

Newer research is revealing that fish oil has exciting possibilities for slowing—or even preventing—cancer.79,80

Here's what recent studies are showing:

  • Women with a history of breast cancer who have the highest EPA and DHA intakes have about a 25% lower risk of additional breast cancer events compared with those having the lowest intake.81
  • 4,000 mg/day of EPA supplements produced a 36% increase in skin sunburn threshold and reduced DNA damage from ultraviolet light; together these effects reduce the risk of skin cancer.82
  • 2,000 mg/day of EPA significantly reduced findings of abnormal precancerous "crypt cells" on colonoscopy, indicating a reduction in colon cancer risk.83
  • Animal studies show that fish oil supplementation delays the progression of lymphoma in mice through the modulation of immune responses and inflammation.84
  • Men taking 1,000 mg EPA and 1,835 mg DHA fish oil daily prior to radical prostate surgery showed significant reductions in cancer cell proliferation.85
  • Lung cancer patients on chemotherapy taking 2.2 grams of EPA/day prevented treatment-associated weight loss with 69% of patients gaining weight after supplementation.86
  • Another lung cancer study showed increased chemotherapy response and a trend toward greater one-year survival in patients supplemented with fish oil.87


The growing importance of fish oil in the diet is highlighted by the remarkable discovery of the pro-resolution molecules lipoxins, resolvins, and protectins.

These molecules initiate an active healing process, triggering the resolution of inflammation within minutes of its beginning. The problem has been in the chronic inflammatory diseases of aging—and in aging itself—there's a shortage of these healing substances.

A breakthrough 2012 study revealed that these molecules can be directly produced in tissues from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. That eliminates the need for synthetic drugs aimed at mimicking the effects of pro-resolution healing molecules and opens the door to self-management by supplementation with a high-quality fish oil supplement.

Doses of 2 to 6 grams/day of omega-3 rich fish oil have been shown to reduce the occurrence and consequences of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, the major neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. Additional benefits are being reported in arthritis, age-related eye diseases, and oral health.8,88-101

Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fats, is no longer optional; it is a must-have for those interested in quelling inflammation and promoting natural healing in their bodies. •

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.