Inappropriate, excessive or uncontrolled inflammation contributes to a range of human diseases. Inflammation involves a multitude of cell types, chemical mediators and interactions. The present article will describe nutritional and metabolic aspects of omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids and explain the roles of bioactive members of those fatty acid families in inflammatory processes. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are n-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and fish oil supplements. These fatty acids are capable of partly inhibiting many aspects of inflammation including leucocyte chemotaxis, adhesion molecule expression and leucocyte-endothelial adhesive interactions, production of eicosanoids like prostaglandins and leukotrienes from the n-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. In addition, EPA gives rise to eicosanoids that often have lower biological potency than those produced from arachidonic acid, and EPA and DHA give rise to anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving mediators called resolvins, protectins and maresins. Mechanisms underlying the anti-inflammatory actions of EPA and DHA include altered cell membrane phospholipid fatty acid composition, disruption of lipid rafts, inhibition of activation of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor nuclear factor κB so reducing expression of inflammatory genes and activation of the anti-inflammatory transcription factor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ. Animal experiments demonstrate benefit from EPA and DHA in a range of models of inflammatory conditions. Human trials demonstrate benefit of oral n-3 fatty acids in rheumatoid arthritis and in stabilizing advanced atherosclerotic plaques. Intravenous n-3 fatty acids may have benefits in critically ill patients through reduced inflammation. The anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving actions of EPA, DHA and their derivatives are of clinical relevance.
Keywords: cytokine; disease; eicosanoid; fish oil; inflammation; polyunsaturated fatty acid.
© 2017 The Author(s). Published by Portland Press Limited on behalf of the Biochemical Society.