Omega-3 Fatty acids and airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma

J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Dec;10(6):1067-75. doi: 10.1089/acm.2004.10.1067.


Despite the progress that has been made in the treatment of asthma, the prevalence and burden of this disease has continued to increase. Exercise is a powerful trigger of asthma symptoms and reversible airflow obstruction and may result in the avoidance of physical activity by patients with asthma, resulting in detrimental consequences to their health. Approximately 90% of patients with asthma are hyperresponsive to exercise and experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). While pharmacologic treatment of asthma is usually highly effective, medications often have significant side-effects or exhibit tachyphylaxis. Alternative therapies for treatment (complementary medicine) that reduce the dose requirements of pharmacologic interventions would be beneficial, and could potentially reduce the public health burden of this disease. There is accumulating evidence that dietary modification has potential to influence the severity of asthma and reduce the prevalence and incidence of this condition. A possible contributing factor to the increased incidence of asthma in Western societies may be the consumption of a proinflammatory diet. In the typical Western diet, 20- to 25-fold more omega- 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) than omega-3 PUFA are consumed, which causes the release of proinflammatory arachidonic acid metabolites (leukotrienes and prostanoids). This review analyzes the existing literature on omega-3 PUFA supplementation as a potential modifier of airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma and includes studies concerning the efficacy of omega-3 PUFA supplementation in EIB. While clinical data evaluating the effect of omega-3 PUFA supplementation in asthma has been equivocal, it has recently been shown that pharmaceutical-grade fish oil (omega-3 PUFA) supplementation reduces airway hyperresponsiveness after exercise, medication use, and proinflammatory mediator generation in nonatopic elite athletes with EIB. These findings are provocative and suggest that dietary omega-3 PUFA supplementation may be a viable treatment modality and/or adjunct therapy in airway hyperresponsiveness. Further studies are needed to confirm these results and understand their mechanism of action.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Resistance / drug effects*
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / drug therapy*
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / etiology
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / physiopathology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / drug therapy*
  • Bronchoconstriction / drug effects*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Sports


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3