Docosahexaenoic acid ingestion inhibits natural killer cell activity and production of inflammatory mediators in young healthy men

Lipids. 1999 Apr;34(4):317-24. doi: 10.1007/s11745-999-0369-5.


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of feeding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as triacylglycerol on the fatty acid composition, eicosanoid production, and select activities of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC). A 120-d study with 11 healthy men was conducted at the Metabolic Research Unit of Western Human Nutrition Reach Center. Four subjects (control group) were fed the stabilization diet throughout the study; the remaining seven subjects were fed the basal diet for the first 30 d, followed by 6 g DHA/d for the next 90 d. DHA replaced an equivalent amount of linoleic acid; the two diets were comparable in their total fat and all other nutrients. Both diets were supplemented with 20 mg D alpha-tocopherol acetate per day. PBMNC fatty acid composition and eicosanoid production were examined on day 30 and 113; immune cell functions were tested on day 22, 30, 78, 85, 106, and 113. DHA feeding increased its concentration from 2.3 to 7.4 wt% in the PBMNC total lipids, and decreased arachidonic acid concentration from 19.8 to 10.7 wt%. It also lowered prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and leukotriene B4 (LTB4) production, in response to lipopolysaccharide, by 60-75%. Natural killer cell activity and in vitro secretion of interleukin-1beta and tumor necrosis factor alpha were significantly reduced by DHA feeding. These parameters remained unchanged in the subjects fed the control diet. B-cell functions as reported here and T-cell functions that we reported previously were not altered by DHA feeding. Our results show that inhibitory effects of DHA on immune cell functions varied with the cell type, and that the inhibitory effects are not mediated through increased production of PGE2 and LTB4.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / analysis
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Eicosanoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / chemistry
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Male
  • Orthomyxoviridae / immunology
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Cytokines
  • Eicosanoids
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids