Inflammation is a normal defence mechanism that protects our body from infection and injury. It involves the destruction of invading pathogens, as well as tissue repair processes to help restore homeostasis at infected or damaged sites.
Where an inflammatory response does occur, it is normally self-regulated in order to not cause excessive damage to the host and includes the activation of negative feedback mechanisms such as the secretion of anti-inflammatory mediators. Therefore, when properly executed, regulated inflammatory responses are essential to remain healthy and maintain homeostasis.
Pathological inflammation however, involves a loss of tolerance and/or self-regulation by the immune system. When inflammation becomes excessive, irreparable damage to hosts’ tissues can occur, leading to chronic inflammation that can cause injury to the host at a systemic level.
This level of chronic inflammation can be overt (i.e. obvious enough to produce clinically detectable symptoms) or covert (i.e. not clinically detectable).
Fatty acids – otherwise known as Omega-3s – influence inflammation through a variety of mechanisms. While Omega-3s are present throughout the body, particularly in the brain, the body cannot produce it on its own, and thus, it must be obtained from dietary sources. You may have heard about how important eating fish is to our diets (notoriously high in Omega-3) but what’s the relationship between Omega-3 and health, specifically inflammation?
Fundamentally, at the crux of its superpowers, Omega-3s are a great source of good quality fat. Fat has been shown to be vitally important for directly mediating functions including brain function, cognition, cardiovascular health, joint mobility and inflammation. It’s important to distinguish that the fat that is used by the brain differs from traditional ‘fat’ across the rest of the body. The brain, and particularly neurons and nerve cells, quite literally rely on fatty acids (or phospholipids), which include EPA and DHAs, in order to exist and function correctly.
EPAs (Eicosapentaenoic acid), a specific type of Omega-3s, function to produce chemicals called eicosanoids, which supports in the reduction of systemic inflammation.
EPAs also provide a plethora of benefits systemically, particularly in regards to inflammation. If your goal is to dampen systemic inflammation to allow for greater muscle recovery, increased training loads, increased joint mobility, improvements in cardiovascular health, and reduction in aches and pains, the addition of EPAs to your diet has shown to be useful.
In a study of 20 professional rugby union players, results indicated that omega-3 supplementation twice daily (in dosages equivalent to Ultra Omega) helped reduce muscle soreness and supported in the maintenance of muscle function following exercise-induced muscle damage.
Elite athletes experienced reduced muscle soreness as well as the maintenance of explosive power. Furthermore, a recent meta-analysis of 68 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and 4601 individuals showed that EPA and DHA supplementation significantly reduced several inflammatory molecules: tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), C-reactive protein (CRP), and interleukin-6 (IL-6).
EPAs are the gold standard of Omega-3s, which are juxtaposed against the less nutritionally dense Omega-6s. While most people are getting enough Omega-6s in their diet (and in many cases, too much), most individuals are not getting enough Omega-3 to support their health in the short and long term. Like Omega-3s, Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids, however, the last double bond is six carbons from the omega end of the fatty acid molecule making it a precursor to a more inflammatory eicosanoid. While still essential, Omega-6s can be more proinflammatory in high doses and can increase the risk of inflammatory diseases. A low intake of Omega-3 fatty acids compared with omega-6s may contribute to inflammation and chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and heart failure.
Chronic, low-level inflammation is known to drive several common diseases, and thus, the addition of EPA rich supplements/food sources supports not only the treatment of existing ailments, but also in improving overall health and performance by combatting pro-inflammatory triggers such as high levels of Omega-6s, environmental toxins and stress.
- Black K.E., Witard O.C., Baker D., Healey P., Lewis V., Tavares F., Christensen S., Pease T., Smith B. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to a protein-based supplement during pre-season training results in reduced muscle soreness and the better maintenance of explosive power in professional Rugby Union players. Eur. J. Sport Sci. 2018;18:1357–1367.
- Li, K., Huang, T., Zheng, J., Wu, K., & Li, D. (2014). Effect of marine-derived n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on C-reactive protein, interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor α: a meta-analysis. PloS one, 9(2), e88103.
- Pip Taylor