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Omega-3: The New Weapon in the Fight Against Lupus

RM Lupus

Prior to writing this article, I spoke to my doctor about lupus. At first, he was a little baffled, as while admittedly, he does get a lot of question about most ailments, lupus rarely comes up.

“People have a similar grasp of illnesses like most do about geography. Sure, they could tell you that a country exists, but ask them to point it out on a map or tell you anything about it and they will usually stare blankly.”

Judging by my lack of knowledge prior to our meeting, I couldn’t argue with the sentiment.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects nearly 1.5 million people in the United States. With lupus, like most autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy tissues, organs, and cells, cause pain and inflammation.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of the disease, accounting for over 70% of all cases. While the skin is the organ usually affected by SLE, the brain, kidneys, lungs and other organs can also be damaged.

While the direct cause of lupus is unknown, it is believed a number of environmental factors can trigger it in individuals who are already vulnerable to the condition, and of those factors, exposure to crystalline silica is one of them.

Crystalline silica is a natural compound present in numerous substances, but most notably, concrete, brick, and mortar. It was classed as a carcinogen following studies that showed that exposure to small, airborne particles of the compound raised the risk of lung cancer.

However, a recent study involving docosahexaenoic acid(DHA) – a type of omega-3 present in fish oil and dietary supplements – had the potential to prevent 96% of lung lesion in silica-exposed mice.

“Cells in the lung can gobble up the silica, but it’s so toxic, it kills these cells,” explains study co-author Jack Harkema, of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University.

“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.”

For the study, they used female mice that were genetically predisposed to develop lupus.

“Ninety-six percent of the lung lesions were stopped with DHA after being triggered by the silica,” notes Harkema. “I’ve never seen such a dramatic protective response in the lung before.”

DHA is one of the three main forms of omega-3 and can be found in dietary supplements and fatty fish – such as salmon, tuna, and trout. DHA is considered key for brain development and function.

So how confident are they, though?

“What we do know is this study is a clear indication that eating DHA can prevent this one type of environmental 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 study co-author James Pestka, Michigan State University.