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February 13, 2013 by MAE CHAN
Researchers Identify How Omega-3 and Vitamin D Enhance The Immune System

Interested in increasing your overall health and energy level? Would you like to prevent cancer, heart disease, alzheimer's and depression? Perhaps you also want to treat diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and a host of other diseases. Researchers have pinpointed the mechanism behind vitamin D3 and omega-3's ability to enhance the immune system and why the two nutrients are so critical to our health.

"Almost every disease decreases in frequency and duration as we move towards equatorial populations, and the data shows that there is a minimum of a 1000 percent increase for many diseases in countries furthest from the equator, however we have obtained the same results based on data through populations and vitamin D supplementation," said Dr. Anthony Petaku who studies the effects of Vitamin D2 and D3 on mutating cells.

It's been known that vitamin D can prevent that genetic damage. When vitamin D binds to specific receptors, it sets off a chain of events by which many toxic agents including cancer cells are rendered harmless. However, if there is not enough vitamin D the system can become overwhelmed and cancer can develop. "This is one of the reasons that people living closest to the equator have a much lower incidence (or absence) of specific cancers which consequently increase in locations further from the equator," said McGill professors Dr. John White.

Many Alzheimer's researchers have long touted fish oil, by pill or diet, as an accessible and inexpensive "weapon" that may delay or prevent this debilitating disease.

The highest average intakes of the sunshine vitamin are associated with a 77% decrease in the risk of Alzheimer's as reported by researchers in the The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science.

A new pilot study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, identifies key genes and signalling networks regulated by vitamin D3 and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) that may help control inflammation and improve plaque clearance.

Led by Dr Milan Fiala from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in the United States, the research h team explained that his team's previous lab work has helped clarify key mechanisms involved in helping vitamin D3 clear amyloid-beta, however their new data extends these previous findings with vitamin D3 and highlights the role of omega-3 DHA.

Alzheimer's Progress

The build-up of plaque from beta-amyloid deposits is associated with an increase in brain cell damage and death from oxidative stress. This is related to a loss of cognitive function and an increased risk of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia and currently affects over 13 million people worldwide.

The direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100 billion (81bn Euros) in the US, while direct costs in the UK are estimated at 22bn Euros.

Previous work by Fiala and his team, based on the function of immune cells called macrophages that had been isolated from Alzheimer's Disease (AD) patients' has suggested that there are two groups of patients and macrophages.

Fiala and his colleagues also found that the immune cells in people that suffer from Alzheimer's Disease express inflammatory genes differentially to healthy controls.

Two distinct transcription patterns were found to further define the two groups: Group 1 had an increased transcription of inflammatory genes, while Group 2 had decreased transcription.

"Further study may help us identify if these two distinct transcription patterns of inflammatory genes could possibly distinguish either two stages or two types of Alzheimer's disease," said Mathew Mizwicki, who also worked on the study.

Study Details

In the new study the research team drew blood samples from both AD patients and healthy controls, then isolated critical immune cells called macrophages from the blood.

Macrophages are responsible for gobbling up amyloid-beta and other waste products in the brain and body.

The team incubated the immune cells overnight with amyloid-beta and added either an active form of vitamin D3 (1alpha,25--dihydroxyvitamin D3) or an active form of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (resolvin D1) to some of the cells to gauge the effect they had on inflammation and amyloid-beta absorption.

Both the 1alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 and resolvin D1 were found to improve the ability of the macrophages in AD patients' to break-down amyloid-beta, and they inhibited the cell death that is induced by amyloid-beta, said the researchers.

While researchers found that 1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 and resolvin D1 greatly improved the clearance of amyloid-beta by macrophages in patients in both groups, they discovered subtleties in the effects the two substances had on the expression of inflammatory genes.

In Group 1, the increased-inflammation group, macrophages showed a decrease of inflammatory activation;
in Group 2, the group with decreased inflammation, macrophages showed an increase of the inflammatory genes IL1 and TLRs when either 1alpha,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 or resolvin D1 were added.

"We may find that we need to carefully balance the supplementation with vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids, depending on each patient in order to help promote efficient clearing of amyloid-beta," Fiala said.

"This is a first step in understanding what form and in which patients these nutrition substances might work best."

The next step is a larger study to help confirm the findings, as well as a clinical trial with omega-3 DHA, the researchers said.

Fiala said that an active (non-oxidised) form of omega-3 DHA -- which is the precursor of the resolvin D1 used in this study -- may work better than more commercially available forms of DHA, which generally are not as well protected against oxidation.

Dosage Information


There is no established recommended daily intake for omega-3s, but a healthy diet containing significant amounts of foods rich in this essential fatty acid is clearly wise. By increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you will naturally bring the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids back into a healthier, 2-1 or (optimally) 1-1 balance.

Try to reduce your consumption of omega-6-rich foods at the same time that you increase your intake of omega-3-rich foods in the following categories:

--Marine sources: Atlantic salmon and other fatty, preferably cold-water fish, including herring (both Atlantic and Pacific), sardines, Atlantic halibut, bluefish, tuna, and Atlantic mackerel.

As a reasonable substitute (or even an occasional alternative) for fresh fish, commercial fish oil capsules are available containing omega-3s such as DHA and EPA.

--Plant sources: hempseed, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables such as purslane are all good sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3. A quarter-cup (1 ounce) of walnuts supplies about 2 grams of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, slightly more than is found in 3 ounces of salmon.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D refers to two biologically inactive precursors - D3, also known as cholecalciferol, and D2, also known as ergocalciferol. The former, produced in the skin on exposure to UVB radiation (290 to 320 nm), is said to be more bioactive.

Both D3 and D2 precursors are hydroxylated in the liver and kidneys to form 25- hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), the non-active 'storage' form, and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25(OH)2D), the biologically active form that is tightly controlled by the body.

While our bodies do manufacture vitamin D on exposure to sunshine (UV-B radiation with a wavelength between 290 and 315 nm), the levels in some northern countries are so weak during the winter months that our body makes no vitamin D at all,

"The Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines, compared with those of the Food and Nutritional Board of the Institute of Medicine, recommend a 2- to 3-fold increase in vitamin D3 intake, with a tolerable upper intake level of 10,000 IU/d," they explained.

Vitamin D is best obtained by sunlight, but if pursuing supplementation, look for high quality vitamin D3 cholecalciferol and stay away from those with dangerous preservatives such as potassium sorbate.

Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.

Reference Sources 116, 126, 170, 184,

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