Because COVID-19 mutates from time to time, a vaccine can only provide temporary protection. Also, studies suggest that what makes COVID-19 dangerous is when the immune defense overreacts by launching so-called hyperinflammation that can damage the circulatory system and healthy tissues. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil turn out to have the potential to prevent COVID-19 infections from becoming life-threatening due to hyperinflammation. That way, fish oil can also help improve survival, according to a review article that is published in International Journal of General Medicine.
Most people who contract COVID-19 develop mild to moderate symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Older people or patients with comorbidities, however, are far more likely to get life-threatening symptoms. It is therefore vital to focus more on these vulnerable groups. It has been assumed for quite some time that the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish and fish oil supplements have the potential to prevent and treat COVID-19. In a new review article that is published in International Journal of General Medicine, a group of scientists looked at different studies to find out more about this link. By trawling databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, Spring Link, and Emerald Insight, they found studies that were published in the period between January 31st, 2020, and September 1., 2021. The scientists analyzed four of 211 studies, all of which looked at omega-3 fatty acids, COVID-19 infections, and the severity of the symptoms.
All four studies showed that patients with severe COVID-19 infections had lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. On the other hand, supplementing with omega-3 for at least three months and having higher omega-3 levels in the blood can lower the risk of contracting a COVID-19 infection by 12 percent. If someone has become infected, having higher levels of omega-3 in the blood also helps reduce the duration of the symptoms and boosts the body’s ability to tackle the dysfunctions in the circulatory system, respiratory tract, and kidneys. In other words, it looks as if omega-3 fatty acids have a potential to prevent and treat COVID-19
Why can COVID-19 become life-threatening?
The immune capacity determines whether a COVID-19 infection is harmless or turns into a life-threatening condition. If the immune system functions optimally, it can easily take on the infection without causing symptoms. With minor or moderate infection cases, symptoms such as headache, coughing, breathing difficulty, and fever may occur and can last until the infection tapers off and the body manages to establish some sort of immunity. However, older patients and people with comorbidities such as overweight, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses are more vulnerable. This is because these groups are likely to suffer from latent, chronic inflammation. Although the chronic inflammation is not something that is felt as such, the derailed immune defense can exacerbate the disease. The patients may develop pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), pulmonary oedemas, and failure of the lungs, kidneys, and other organs. A major reason for this is that the patients react with so-called hyperinflammation that triggers a barrage of other reactions that cause blood vessels to leak and immune cells to start attacking healthy tissues. These critical cases require intensive care admission. Ineffective treatment of the condition may lead to organ failure and death. It is not the virus as such that is life-threatening. It is the derailed immune defense that is unable to control and harness the body’s inflammatory processes.
Why do omega-3 fatty acids have a preventive and therapeutic effect?
Oily fish and fish oil supplements contain the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), that are involved in a host of biochemical processes. In their review article, the authors mention that EPA and DHA trigger the white blood cells in the innate immune defense (macrophages and neutrophilic lymphocytes) and make them launch normal inflammatory processes to help overwin the infection faster. At the same time, EPA and DHA are able to dial down the synthesis of different proinflammatory cytokines. More specifically, the omega-3 fatty acids promote the production of specific eicosanoids (resolvin, maresin, lipoxin, and protectin) and regulate proteins like NF-kB, all of which play a major role in the immune defense’s handling of inflammatory processes.
One of the studies (Doaei et al.) reported that critically ill COVID-19 patients who received one gram of fish oil daily for 14 days had higher pH values and higher levels of potassium and HCO3 (bicarbonate) in their arterial blood compared to the placebo group, suggesting an improved acid-base balance. The omega-3 fatty acids also seemed to improve the function of the endothelial cells, they optimized the flow of blood, and they counteracted oxygen shortages in the organs plus organ failure.
The authors behind the new review article conclude that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids has a potential in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infections.
- As shown, one gram of fish oil daily has a therapeutic effect
- This is the amount of fish oil you get from one serving of herring
- As an alternative, you can take a high-quality fish oil supplement
Nanda Nursyifa et al. Potential of Omega-3 Supplementation for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): A Scoping Review. International Journal of General Medicine 2022
Arash Asher et al. Blood omega-3 fatty acids and death from COVID-19: A Pilot Study. medRxiv 2021
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