Aims: Persons with high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have lower cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The protective effect of PUFAs is mediated by multiple mechanisms, including their antiinflammatory properties. The association of physiological PUFA levels with pro- and antiinflammatory markers has not been established.
Methods and results: In 1123 persons (aged 20-98 yr), we examined the relationship between relative concentration of fatty acids in fasting plasma and level of inflammatory markers. Adjusting for age, sex, and major confounders, lower arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids were associated with significantly higher IL-6 and IL-1ra and significantly lower TGFbeta. Lower alpha-linolenic acid was associated with higher C-reactive protein and IL-1ra, and lower eicosapentaenoic acid was associated with higher IL-6 and lower TGFbeta. Lower docosahexaenoic acid was strongly associated with lower IL-10. Total n-3 fatty acids were associated with lower IL-6 (P = 0.005), IL-1ra (P = 0.004), and TNFalpha (P = 0.040) and higher soluble IL-6r (P < 0.001), IL-10 (P = 0.024), and TGFbeta (P = 0.0012). Lower n-6 fatty acid levels were significantly associated with higher IL-1ra (P = 0.026) and lower TGFbeta (P = 0.014). The n-6 to n-3 ratio was a strong, negative correlate of IL-10. Findings were similar in participants free of cardiovascular diseases and after excluding lipids from covariates.
Conclusions: In this community-based sample, PUFAs, and especially total n-3 fatty acids, were independently associated with lower levels of proinflammatory markers (IL-6, IL-1ra, TNFalpha, C-reactive protein) and higher levels of antiinflammatory markers (soluble IL-6r, IL-10, TGFbeta) independent of confounders. Our findings support the notion that n-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in patients affected by diseases characterized by active inflammation.