Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammatory processes and inflammatory bowel diseases

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Aug;52(8):885-97. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200700289.


With regard to inflammatory processes, the main fatty acids of interest are the n-6 PUFA arachidonic acid (AA), which is the precursor of inflammatory eicosanoids like prostaglandin E(2) and leukotriene B(4), and the n-3 PUFAs eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are found in oily fish and fish oils. EPA and DHA inhibit AA metabolism to inflammatory eicosanoids. They also give rise to mediators that are less inflammatory than those produced from AA or that are anti-inflammatory. In addition to modifying the lipid mediator profile, n-3 PUFAs exert effects on other aspects of inflammation like leukocyte chemotaxis and inflammatory cytokine production. Some of these effects are likely due to changes in gene expression, as a result of altered transcription factor activity. Fish oil has been shown to decrease colonic damage and inflammation, weight loss and mortality in animal models of colitis. Fish oil supplementation in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases results in n-3 PUFA incorporation into gut mucosal tissue and modification of inflammatory mediator profiles. Clinical outcomes have been variably affected by fish oil, although some trials report improved gut histology, decreased disease activity, use of corticosteroids and relapse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Eicosanoids / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / physiology
  • Fish Oils / pharmacology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology*
  • Inflammation Mediators / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / etiology*
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • PPAR gamma / genetics
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Cytokines
  • Eicosanoids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Fish Oils
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • NF-kappa B
  • PPAR gamma
  • Arachidonic Acid