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February 22, 2024

Can Omega-3 Fats Heal Your Lungs?

We don’t always think about our lungs wearing out, until we suddenly find ourselves getting winded when we walk up a flight of stairs. Part of the aging process includes declining lung function, but if you find it difficult to keep up with people your own age, you may be one of the 34 million people in the U.S. living with a chronic lung disease like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. Swelling or inflammation caused by disease, environmental exposures, or smoking can partially obstruct breathing passages and limit airflow.

Last June, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published a study showing that consuming omega-3 fatty acids can slow declining lung function in folks with COPD. Scientists have already proven that omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent cardiovascular disease, but the effects of omega-3s on chronic lung conditions was unknown until this study. It’s the first study that shows the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in keeping the lungs healthy.

The researchers analyzed blood samples of more than 15,000 Americans whose well-being had been tracked for an average of seven years. This allowed them to identify a connection between lower levels of omega-3s and declining lung function related to age. The team also analyzed genetic data from the United Kingdom Biobank of more than 50,000 Europeans. Data from both groups found that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids protected lung health.

The results from both analyses showed a clear correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and lung health.

Last October, a team from the University of Virginia published a study investigating the association between blood-plasma levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the progression of pulmonary fibrosis. Pulmonary fibrosis is an irreversible condition where lungs become scarred and stiff, making it difficult to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The cause of pulmonary fibrosis is usually unknown (idiopathic). And even more concerning—average life expectancy after diagnosis is two to five years. However, 20 to 25 percent of patients live beyond 10 years.

The study reviewed information on more than 300 people with “idiopathic” pulmonary fibrosis. The researchers found that higher blood plasma levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with better ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and longer survival without need for lung transplant. The findings were consistent regardless of smoking history or cardiovascular disease.

Both of these studies are groundbreaking in regard to lung health. They are the first two studies showing a convincingly positive association between omega-3 fats and lung health. The great thing about these studies—they considered two completely different diseases that affect the lungs in different ways.

While neither study proved omega-3s can heal damaged lungs, they both showed having higher omega-3 status indicated healthier lungs in folks with irreversible lung conditions.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that have a double bond three atoms away from their tail. Scientists have linked PUFAs to better heart health and brain health, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, and improved hormone levels.

The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We mainly find ALA in plants like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. And we find DHA and EPA in fish and other seafoods. Because our body can’t produce omega-3s, we can only get them from the foods we eat or the supplements we take.

EPA and DHA (fish oils) are definitely the most important omega-3s we need to consume. They are important components of the membranes that surround each cell in our body. DHA levels are especially high in eye, brain, and sperm cells. Omega-3s also have numerous functions in your heart, blood vessels, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system.

During the pandemic, I wrote a post about the role of specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) in resolving the cytokine storm associated with severe Covid-19. That role was due to the fact our bodies produce special metabolites from DHA and EPE which can resolve an out-of-control inflammatory response. Both lung diseases examined in the studies mentioned above probably result from systemic inflammation. COPD most definitely does.

Omega-3s probably have such a positive effect on lung diseases because of their ability to resolve inflammation. The two studies mentioned above may have been conducted because of the positive effect we saw omega-3s having on severe Covid cases.

We have always recommended getting plenty of omega-3s as part of our Simple 9© Nutritional Program. They are vital to so many aspects of your health, and now we know they are important for your lung health. We recommend that our clients eat a handful of walnuts or macadamia nuts every day and eat salmon once or twice a week. When it comes to fish, wild-caught salmon contains much higher amounts of omega-3s than farm-raised salmon, because the DHA and EPA in fish and krill are synthesized by micro algae, not by the fish. When fish consume phytoplankton that consumed micro algae, they accumulate the omega-3s in their tissues.

Red meat can also be a significant source of omega-3s, but only if the red meat is grass fed. Check out this post I wrote a few years ago about the importance of eating only grass-fed beef.

Eggs? Same story. They are a great source of omega-3s if the chickens get to roam around and eat grass and bugs all day. Not so great if they’re fed grains.

Weve never been big on recommending supplements, but if you dont think youre getting enough omega-3s in your diet (and you probably aren’t), you might want to take a fish oil supplement. I take this krill oil on a daily basis, in addition to eating nuts daily and salmon weekly.

The U.S. FDA recommends consuming no more than 5 g/day of EPA and DHA combined from dietary supplements. And as always, talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.

Stay Strong,

Bo Railey