NAPOLI, ITALY. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a serious, inherited childhood disease. The main symptoms are an abnormally thick mucus that clogs the lungs and results in breathing difficulties, failure to gain weight, repeated lung infections, and persistent cough and wheezing. It is estimated that about 1 in 2500 infants are born with the disease. There is ample evidence that it involves a combination of bacterial infection and inflammation. There is also evidence that leukotriene B4 (LTB-4) is involved in the enhanced influx of neutrophils (a special kind of white blood cell) into the lungs. Leukotriene B4, in turn, is synthesized from arachidonic acid. It is well established that the arachidonic acid content of red blood cell membranes can be significantly reduced by supplementation with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the main components of fish oil supplements.
Italian researchers decided to see if taking fish oil supplements could reduce the symptoms of CF. Their clinical trial involved 30 CF patients (10 boys and 20 girls with an average age of 12 years). The study participants supplemented with enteric-coated fish oil capsules providing about 1280 mg/day of EPA and about 930 mg/day of DHA as well as about 50 mg/day of vitamin E. They were also encouraged to increase their intake of seafood and continued on their routine supplementation program with multivitamins and pancreatic enzymes. As expected, EPA and DHA levels in red blood cell phospholipids increased significantly during the 8-month supplementation period with a commensurate decrease in arachidonic acid level. The researchers also observed a marked decrease in the level of the inflammatory marker IgG.
Perhaps the most important change resulting from taking fish oil supplements was the sharp drop in the need for antibiotic medication. This was needed for an average of 13 days per child during the 8-month supplementation period compared to an average of 24 days per child during the previous 8 months. The researchers conclude that long-term supplementation with EPA + DHA decreases inflammation and the need for antibiotics in children with CF. Other studies have also found evidence of a positive effect between taking fish oil and cystic fibrosis.
De Vizia, Basilio, et al. Effect of an 8-month treatment with omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic) in patients with cystic fibrosis. Journal of Parental and Enteral Nutrition, Vol. 27, January-February 2003, pp. 52-57