Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, plant-based sources, and omega-3 supplements, may prevent lung function decline in otherwise healthy individuals.
In a large two-part study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), researchers looked deeper into the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and published their findings in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Specifically, they aimed to determine whether the levels of omega-3s in a person’s blood were associated with lung health over time.
For the first part of the study, scientists recruited 15,063 American participants from the NHLBI Pooled Cohorts Study — a pool of NIH-funded studies that assist researchers when investigating risk factors for chronic lung disease. The racially diverse participants were healthy, and most had no signs of lung disease. Their average age was 56, and nearly half were female.
The scientists followed the participants for up to 20 years, with an average follow-up of seven years.
After examining the data, the team found that participants with higher Omega-3 blood levels had less lung function decline. Specifically, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) appeared to have the most impact.
In the second phase of the research, the team analyzed data from over 500,000 participants from the UK Biobank. They looked at genetic markers in the blood to measure omega-3 blood levels and compared them to the participants’ lung health.
Again, the results showed that higher Omega-3s in the blood were linked to better lung function.
Though the two-part study only included healthy adults, in an NIH news release, James P. Kiley, Ph.D., director of the NHLBI’s Division of Lung Diseases, says, "This large population-based study suggests that nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties may help to maintain lung health."
"More research is needed since these findings raise interesting questions for future prospective studies about the link between omega-3 fatty acids and lung function," Kiley adds.
The team is collaborating with another arm of research called the COPDGene study to investigate whether higher omega-3 levels benefit heavy smokers or people with lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Still, the NIH says that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that individuals consume at least two servings of fish per week. Yet many Americans may not meet that goal.
However, aside from fish, people can also obtain omega-3s from other sources, such as fish oil supplements, walnuts, chia, flaxseed, and hemp seeds, and fortified foods.
- American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Investigating Associations of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Lung Function Decline, and Airway Obstruction.
- National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 fatty acids appear promising for maintaining lung health.