Omega-3 fatty acid stops known trigger of lupus

Jim Pestka and Melissa Bates, Ph.D. student, have found that consuming an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, can stop a known trigger of lupus and potentially other autoimmune disorders.

October 31, 2016

Jim Pestka and Melissa Bates, Ph.D. student, have found that consuming an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, can stop a known trigger of lupus and potentially other autoimmune disorders.

 

DHA can be found in fatty, cold-water fish and is produced by the algae that fish eat and store in their bodies. It can be found in fish oil supplements as well, which are used by over 30 million Americans.

 

“What we discovered was that, when lupus was triggered by crystalline silica, a toxic mineral also known as quartz that’s linked to human autoimmunity, DHA blocked the activation of the disease,” said Bates, one of the study’s lead authors and a doctoral student in the MSU Department of Food Science and the Institute of Integrative Toxicology.

 

The findings have been published in PLOS One.

 

The preclinical study looked at the effect of DHA on lupus lesions in the lungs and kidneys of female mice that were already genetically predisposed to the disease. Their results were overwhelmingly positive.

 

“Ninety-six percent of the lung lesions were stopped with DHA after being triggered by the silica,” said Jack Harkema, another study author and a pulmonary pathologist. “I’ve never seen such a dramatic protective response in the lung before.”

 

Lupus is considered a genetic disease and is triggered not only by inhaling crystalline silica toxicants but also by other environmental factors such as sun exposure. Quartz is the most common and the most dangerous form of crystalline silica and is often found in the agriculture, construction and mining industries, where workers can breathe in the mineral dust.

 

“Lupus is the body’s immune system attacking itself, and it can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints and organs,” said Dr. Pestka, a university distinguished professor of food science and human nutrition, who co-led the research with Bates and Harkema.

 

Although it’s still unknown exactly why DHA can prevent the onset of lupus, the researchers said this study provides scientists with a better model for looking at just how much DHA is needed to protect against the environmental trigger of the disease.

 

“Cells in the lung called macrophages can gobble up the silica, but it’s so toxic that it kills these cells,” Harkema said. “When they die, signals are sent out to the immune system that something is wrong. The body then produces such a strong response that it also starts to target healthy cells.”

 

Harkema said that the DHA could be changing the way macrophages react to the silica in the lungs and somehow altering the immune system’s response.

 

“Our next step is to figure out exactly what’s happening,” he said.

 

One theory is that the DHA helps cells send an anti-inflammatory signal to the body so it doesn’t overcompensate and trigger an autoimmune response. Another thought is that somehow the DHA allows the cells to swallow up and remove the toxic silica from the lung without dying, thus preventing any inflammatory signals from being sent.

 

“What we do know is that this study is a clear indication that eating DHA can prevent this one type of environmental triggering of lupus,” Pestka said. “It can suppress many of the disease’s signaling pathways, which current drugs on the market now try to target and treat.”

 

The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the Lupus Foundation of America funded the research.

 

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