Fatty acid protects against lupus

John Murphy, MDLinx | October 04, 2016

Consuming docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, prevented a known trigger of lupus, according to study in mice published in PLoS ONE.


omega-3 fatty acid blocks lupus reaction

Lung lesions triggered by inhaling crystalline silica (left) were dramatically reduced (right) after consuming DHA fatty acid. (Images: Bates MA, et al. PLoS ONE, CC BY 4.0)

“What we discovered was when lupus was triggered by crystalline silica, a toxic mineral also known as quartz that’s linked to human autoimmunity, DHA blocked the activation of the disease,” said co-lead author Melissa Bates, a doctoral student in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University (MSU), East Lansing, MI.

Quartz is the most common and most dangerous form of crystalline silica. Its mineral dust can be inhaled by workers in agriculture, construction, mining, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industries. An estimated 2.3 million American workers in these and other industries are exposed to high concentrations of crystalline silica, the authors reported.

In this study of mice genetically prone to lupus, consumption of DHA in a dose-dependent manner prevented the immune response triggered by crystalline silica.

“Ninety-six percent of the lung lesions were stopped with DHA after being triggered by the silica,” said co-lead author Jack Harkema, DVM, PhD, Pulmonary Pathologist and Distinguished Professor at MSU’s Institute of Integrative Toxicology. “I’ve never seen such a dramatic protective response in the lung before.”

Many studies have demonstrated that dietary omega-3 fatty acids can suppress and sometimes even reverse innate immune inflammation. In this study, if the amount of DHA consumed by the mice is extrapolated for a human, then a person on a daily diet of 2,000 calories would need to consume only 2g to 12g of DHA per day.

“Consequently, in terms of energy percentage in a typical human diet, the concentrations employed here span a range attainable through diet, supplement consumption, or by prescription,” the authors wrote.

What the researchers don’t know is exactly how DHA prevents triggering the autoimmune response in lupus. More research will hopefully bear this out.

“What we do know is this study is a clear indication that eating DHA can prevent this one type of environmental triggering of lupus,” said co-lead author James Pestka, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at MSU’s Institute of Integrative Toxicology. “It can suppress many of the disease’s signaling pathways, which current drugs on the market now try to target and treat.”

This finding opens the door to developing practical, low-cost preventative strategies to reduce the risk of autoimmune reactions and subsequent lupus flare-ups in individuals exposed to crystalline silica, the researchers predicted.