Exposure to fine particles (particulate) in the air, such as in air pollution during your morning commute, can be risky for your health. Fortunately, researchers may have found a way to get you to work more safely. They found that, in mice, omega-3 fatty acids both prevented and reduced existing inflammation caused by inhaling fine particles. In the study, published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects, researchers performed two experiments. In the first experiment, mice inhaled air containing a high concentration of fine particles that were 1.75 micrometers in diameter (a size known to be harmful to health) for six weeks. For the next two months, half of them were fed a standard diet, half were fed a diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids and neither breathed high-particulate air. Tissue and blood samples were taken before and after the dietary phase of the experiment. The researchers found that:
As expected, fine particles had accumulated in the mice’s lungs; unexpectedly, the particulate was also found in other organs, including the brain, liver, and kidneys, causing high levels of whole-body inflammation and oxidative stress.
Compared with mice eating a standard diet, the mice that received omega-3 fatty acids had reduced lung tissue inflammation and lower levels of markers of whole-body inflammation and oxidative stress at the end of the experiment.
In the second experiment, two types of mice were used: a wild-type with normal fatty acid metabolism and an experimental type called fat-1, bred for their ability to produce omega-3 fatty acids. Half of the wild-type and half of the fat-1 mice breathed high-particulate air for six weeks; the other half breathed normal air. The researchers again took blood and tissue samples and found that:
There was less particulate-induced inflammation and tissue damage in the lungs of the fat-1 mice compared with the wild-type mice.
Blood markers of whole-body inflammation and oxidative stress due to particulate inhalation were lower in the fat-1 mice than in the wild-type mice.
These results show that higher omega-3 fatty acid levels in the body could be beneficial in both treating and preventing inflammation and tissue damage from breathing high-particulate air. Less inflammation may mean lower disease risk, which could significantly affect public health. However, human studies are needed to verify these findings before we can all breathe easy. While waiting for future studies on this topic, don’t forget that getting enough dietary omega-3 fatty acids is a wise choice for other reasons—they’ve been linked to better cognitive performance and lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are good sources.
Source: Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects