Can Fish Oil Change the Course of COVID-19 Infection?
Modern medicine is in the race of its life to understand the pathophysiology of SARS-CoV-2, and any possible drug or intervention that could change the course of COVID-19’s death pathway. There are currently over 100 vaccine candidates, with ten already in clinical trials. Also, there are 18 different drug treatments that are in or about to enter clinical trials.
But what if something as simple as fish oil, or a metabolite of fish oil, could change the course of how your body reacts to a COVID-19 infection? Sounds too simple right? Maybe not when you understand how your body reacts to a viral infection of this nature.
The problem for those who suffer the most from SARS-CoV-2 isn’t the virus itself. In some people, the virus triggers an overreactive inflammatory response that spirals out of control. This overreaction, referred to as a cytokine storm, damages the lungs, heart, or brain, and possibly all three. Let’s take a look at how this happens. Please bear with me through the science in the next few paragraphs. Getting to the end of this article will be well worth your time.
Your body’s first line of defense against infection or virus is your innate immune system. When your body encounters a threat like an infection or a virus, it launches a non-specific attack from immune cells that are already in place to defend against a foreign invader. This is like storming the beaches of Normandy, where your body is throwing everything it has at the invader to see what will work.
The result of this initial attack is acute inflammation, which is your body’s natural and protective response to infection or injury. Acute inflammation occurs when you have a physical injury, like a cut or a wound, or when you have bacterial or viral infections. When acute inflammation lasts longer than it should, it develops into chronic inflammation and progresses to chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, asthma and allergies, and joint pain and stiffness. Chronic inflammation can also be the result of a poor diet, which results in the same damaging effects.
Inflammatory cytokines act as signals to trigger white blood cells to indiscriminately attack an invading organism. The purpose of this first phase is to stop infection before it can get a foothold, and also to allow time for the secondary response to an invading organism to ramp up and function. As the innate immune response reaches its peak and starts to wane, the second phase, called the adaptive immune response starts to kick in. At this point, specific antibodies are made to target the specific organism that fit in a lock and key fashion to tag the invader for destruction. It’s much more specific. This part of the immune response acts like a laser guided missile.
When the acute inflammatory response peaks and starts to wane, you have an increase of special lipid mediators derived from omega-3 fatty acids that serve as the body’s natural “stop” signals to inflammation. These chemical messengers are called specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs). SPMsare actually made in your body from omega-3 fatty acids. SPMs do not block inflammation. What they actually do is help facilitate the clearance of inflammatory components and naturally resolve the inflammatory process. If your body does not have sufficient SPMs, inflammation will be unstoppable and potentially morph into the cytokine storm that is the most destructive part of a COVID-19 infection.
Your body makes specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) from omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which should be very abundant in your diet and vey present throughout your body in terms of cell wall membranes and other fatty acid structures. The problem is, in contemporary western society, most people are very deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.
Also, as you get older, the enzymes that convert omega-3 fatty acids into SPMs start to wane. And, if you have chronic inflammation, or a very severe acute inflammatory event, those SPMs can get consumed in the process.
If you have inadequate SPMs to shut down the cytokine response that’s initiated with inflammation, then inflammation can spiral out of control. This is what we are seeing in the most severe cases of COVID-19. This also makes sense when you realize that the more chronically ill and the elderly are the ones that are more likely to be deficient of specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs).
Increasing levels of these lipid mediators in the body could be a new therapeutic approach to preventing life-threatening inflammation caused by SARS-CoV-2. Research was published in May in the journal Cancer & Metastasis stating that specialized pro-resolving mediators could prevent cytokine storms and turn off virus-induced inflammation by broadly activating the body’s natural inflammation clearing activities. What is exciting is that these lipid mediators that ‘turn off,’ or resolve, inflammation are already in clinical trials for other inflammation-driven diseases, such as eye disease and periodontal disease.
Currently KD Pharma is conducting a clinical trial in which a fish oil formulation is being given to patients who have contracted coronavirus, with the aim of minimizing symptoms to reduce the risk of coronavirus complications progressing to serious outcomes such as the need for artificial ventilation and intensive care. Their supplement, called EPAspire, is a special formulation of eicosapentaenoic acids and free fatty acids.
We have always recommend getting plenty of omega-3s as part of our Simple 9 Nutritional Program. They are vital to so many aspects of your health, especially the resolution of inflammation. We have always recommended that our clients eat a handful of walnuts or macadamia nuts every day and eat salmon once or twice a week. We’ve never been big on recommending supplements, but if you don’t think you’re getting enough omega-3s in your diet, you might want to take a fish oil supplement. I actually take this krill oil on a daily basis, in addition to eating nuts daily and salmon weekly.
If you’re wanting to hedge your bet against inflammation, especially a runaway cytokine storm, you may want to consider taking this a step further. Remember, this is coming from someone who rarely recommends supplements. You can actually take specialized pro-resolving mediators in their finished form as a supplement. A couple of SPM supplements we like are Sports Pro Resolve and Life Extension. As a disclaimer we have no affiliation with either of these companies.
Remember, as you get older, the enzymes that convert omega-3s to specialized pro-resolving mediators are not as plentiful. Also, if you are in a high stress situation, or are competing in intense sports, you use up your specialized pro-resolving mediators very quickly.
If you’re not getting enough omega-3s in your diet—and most people don’t—you may want to consider regular supplementation of either fish oil or SPMs. Who knows, it could save your life.
Also, we recommend consulting your physician before taking any supplementation. And, if you are sick, please call your doctor.
Stay Strong and Healthy,