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Omega-3 fatty acids may slow deadly pulmonary fibrosis

Article-Omega-3 fatty acids may slow deadly pulmonary fibrosis

© iStock/FG Trade Latin Omega-3 fatty acids may slow deadly pulmonary fibrosis
Omega-3 fatty acids may slow the progression of pulmonary fibrosis, delaying the need for lung transplants, say US researchers.

Higher blood plasma levels of omega-3s – the heart-healthy fats found in foods such as salmon and flaxseeds – were associated with slower progression of pulmonary fibrosis, better lung function, and longer transplant-free survival, according to a study in the journal Chest.

The scientists are now calling for clinical trials to determine if interventions that raise omega-3 levels could be a useful tool to improve outcomes for patients with pulmonary fibrosis and other chronic lung diseases.

“We found that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood, which reflects several weeks of dietary intake, were linked to better lung function and longer survival,” said John Kim, a pulmonary and critical care expert at UVA Health and the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “Our findings suggest omega-3 fatty acids might be a targetable risk factor in pulmonary fibrosis.”

Omega-3 fatty acids linked to a range of health benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a range of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. Research suggests that consuming a diet rich in omega-3s may help to prevent age-related hearing loss and could help slow the progression of the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Pulmonary fibrosis, an irreversible condition that disease that causes scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs, hindering their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide properly, leaves patients weak, short of breath, and unable to exercise, among other symptoms.

There is global variability in its reported incidence and prevalence due to regional differences in study methodologies; however, rates are known to be increasing, while smoking is a major risk factor.

The study sought to determine whether omega-3 fatty acids could play a protective role in interstitial lung disease, a group of chronic lung diseases that can lead to pulmonary fibrosis.

Higher levels of omega-3s associated with better outcomes in pulmonary fibrosis

The researchers reviewed the records of more than 300 people with interstitial lung disease. Most participants were men (among whom pulmonary fibrosis is more common) and most suffered from “idiopathic” pulmonary fibrosis, the most common type of pulmonary fibrosis.

© iStock/magicmineOmega-3 fatty acids may slow deadly pulmonary fibrosis

They found that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood plasma were associated with better ability to exchange carbon dioxide and longer survival without the need for a lung transplant. This did not vary greatly regardless of smoking history or whether patients had cardiovascular disease.

“Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were predictive of better clinical outcomes in pulmonary fibrosis,” Kim said. “These findings were consistent whether you had a history of cardiovascular disease, which suggests this may be specific to pulmonary fibrosis.”

The team says additional research is needed to understand how omega-3s exert this protective benefit.

“We need further research to determine if there are specific omega-3 fatty acids that may be beneficial and, if so, what are their underlying mechanisms,” Kim said. “Similar to other chronic diseases, we hope to determine whether nutrition-related interventions can have a positive impact on pulmonary fibrosis.”