A team of researchers at Michigan State University has recently found a type of omega-3 fatty acid that could prevent lupus and other autoimmune diseases from triggering.
DHA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid found in cold-water fish, algae, and dietary supplements.
What is lupus?
Lupus is categorized as a genetic disease which affects the body’s immune system.
The immune system begins to attack itself, which can result in damage to any part of the body, such as the skin, vital organs, and joints.
It is often triggered by environmental factors, such as air quality or sun exposure, but is most commonly catalyzed by inhaling crystalline silica toxicants that workers from the construction, agriculture, and mining industry are exposed to.
Professor Jack Harkema, one of the co-authors of the study, explains: “Cells in the lung can gobble up the silica, but it’s so toxic, it kills these cells. 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.”
Researchers observed the effect of DHA on lupus lesions in the lungs and kidneys of laboratory mice that were genetically predisposed to the disease and found that the results were significantly positive.
Melissa Bates, one of the lead authors of the study and a doctoral student in MSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Toxicology, said: “What we discovered was 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.”
Another author of the study, Jack Harkema, said: “96% of the lung lesions were stopped with DHA after being triggered by silica. I’ve never seen such a dramatic protective response in the lungs before!”
How does DHA do it?
While research is still ongoing, scientists from the study have said that the results have given them a great foundation to determine exactly how DHA stops lupus and other autoimmune diseases from being triggered.
“DHA could be changing the way that these cells, also known as macrophages, react to the silica in the lungs and somehow alter the immune system’s response. Our next step is to figure out exactly what’s happening,” Harkema said.
So far, researchers have theorized that DHA assists cells to send an anti-inflammatory signal to the body in order to avoid the over-compensation that can trigger an autoimmune response. It might also completely absorb and remove the toxic silica from the cells, which prevents any alert from triggering in the body at all.
“What we do know is that this study is a clear indication that eating DHA can prevent this one type of environment triggering of lupus. It can suppress many of the disease’s signaling pathways, which current drugs on the market now try to target and treat,” said James Pestka, a University Distinguished Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition.