Marine-Based Fatty Acids Can Reduce Inflammation, Improve Fat Absorption in CF Patients, Study Shows

Alice Melão, MSc avatar

by Alice Melão, MSc |

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MAG-DHA fatty acids

Taking a marine-origin omega-3 compound, docosahexaenoic acid monoglyceride (MAG-DHA), can improve the absorption of fats and reduce inflammation in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF).

The study with that finding, “The Efficacy of MAG-DHA for Correcting AA/DHA Imbalance of Cystic Fibrosis Patients,” was published in the journal Marine Drugs.

Mutations in the CFTR gene, which codes for a channel across the membrane of cells that produce mucus, sweat, saliva, tears, and digestive enzymes, is the underlying cause of CF. Although the disease is mainly recognized by the severe changes in pulmonary function, patients, if left untreated, may develop impaired fat absorption and malnutrition, accompanied by chronic inflammation.

About 85 percent of CF patients have low absorption of essential fatty acids (a type of fat). That often results in an imbalance in the ratio of two essential fatty acids — a  reduction in the levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of fatty acid known as omega-3 fatty acid, and an increase in the levels of arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6 unsaturated fatty acid. known to promote pulmonary inflammation.

Increasing the levels of AA leads to exaggerated AA-mediated inflammation, while low DHA impairs inflammation resolution (DHA has anti-inflammatory properties), contributing to tissue damage.

Using food supplements to restore fatty molecules balance has been proposed as a strategy to counteract the pro-inflammatory status of CF patients with an imbalance of fatty acids. However, this approach is still controversial and there is limited evidence of its therapeutic potential.

In the PREMDIC pilot study (NCT02518672) researchers evaluated the impact of supplementary intake of MAG-DHA, a new marine omega-3 compound, in CF patients’ fatty molecules profiles and inflammatory status.

The study enrolled 15 adult patients with CF who were assigned randomly to receive MAG-DHA or sunflower oil as placebo (control) once a day for 60 days.

Daily MAG-DHA intake was found to induce a 3.2-fold increase in DHA of red blood cells compared to placebo by the end of the study. DHA levels increased from 3.5% (beginning of the trial) to 8.4% after 60 days-treatment with MAG-DHA, while the levels in placebo group remained about the same, from 3.2% to 2.7%, respectively.

Also, the amount of AA lowered over time — from 13.9% (baseline) to 11.6% (60 days). Meanwhile,  in the placebo group, AA levels were constantly elevated for the duration of the trial (from 15.4% to 15.2%).

Supplementation with MAG-DHA for 60 days significantly reduced the AA/DHA ratio in CF patients, reaching values closer to those found in blood samples collected from six healthy volunteers, the researchers reported.

To further evaluate the affect of the fatty supplement, researchers assessed the levels of the pro-inflammatory signaling molecule interleukin-6 (IL-6).

As expected, in the beginning of the study CF patients had about four times higher levels of IL-6 compared to the healthy volunteers. Daily MAG-DHA promoted a significant reduction in IL-6 levels after 60 days, with a change of about 2.5-fold compared to the beginning fo trial. In contrast, those in the placebo group showed no change in the levels of IL-6.

Supported by these results, researchers concluded “the medical food MAG-DHA represents a simple solution to overcome the impaired absorption of DHA in CF patients.” Also, 60 days of MAG-DHA supplementation can be enough to inhibit pro-inflammatory processes, which may benefit the overall status of the patients, they said.