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Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help With Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:

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Omega-3 Coronavirus

Omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively studied for their potential health benefits to heart disease and arthritis, but there is some evidence that they may help fight off certain infections as well. Do omega-3 fatty acids have any effect on the new coronavirus? Find out what the research has to say.

This article is for informational purposes only. The current coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing event and certain details may change as new information comes to light. Overall, the best preventive measures you can take against COVID-19 are basic standard precautions, including social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding touching your face.

Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Have a Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that have important anti-inflammatory effects.

Examples include EPA and DHA, which are commonly found in fish oils, and ALA, which is found in plant oils [1].

Omega-3 fatty acids have many purported health benefits. With the current coronavirus outbreak, their potential ability to help fight infections and improve lung function are of particular interest [2, 3].

There is no evidence yet that omega-3 fatty acids can treat or prevent the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there are studies that suggest these fatty acids may be beneficial for some types of infection, while they may be detrimental in others.

In this article, we’ll go over exactly how omega-3 fatty acids interact with the immune system and lung health. For more information on their other health benefits, check out our article here.

Omega-3 fatty acids may improve lung function and potentially help fight against certain infections, but there is no evidence that they can treat or prevent coronavirus.

How Can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help?

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. They can influence inflammation through several mechanisms, such as [4]:

  • Reducing the gene expression of inflammatory compounds
  • Altering the concentration of proteins and hormones that affect inflammation
  • Helping produce resolvins, an anti-inflammatory compound

There’s also some evidence that the fatty acids EPA and DHA may stimulate the immune system to better fight infections [5].

In addition, some of the compounds that EPA and DHA help to produce, such as resolvins and protectins, have antibacterial and antiviral properties [5].

Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Infections

Research suggests that the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects of omega-3 fatty acids may help fight off certain infections [5, 2].

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA may limit tissue injury and help fight infections caused by the following bacteria [5, 2]:

  • P. aeruginosa
  • S. aureus
  • H. pylori
  • S. pneumonia
  • E. coli
  • Streptococcus B

However, there is also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can make some types of infection worse, including certain bacterial and viral infections [5, 2].

In some cases, omega-3 fatty acids can suppress the immune system, which can impair the immune response and potentially lead to worse outcomes, such as in [5, 2]:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Salmonella
  • Influenza A virus (the flu)
  • Herpes simplex virus

It’s important to note that almost all of this evidence is based on animal and test-tube studies. Until further clinical research is done, it’s impossible to say if these effects occur in humans.

Omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in certain infections, but detrimental in others.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Lung Function

A number of studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may improve lung function, primarily by reducing inflammation in the airways [6, 3, 7].

For example, a study of 642 people with asthma found that higher EPA and DHA levels were associated with a reduced risk of airway hyperreactivity [8].

A scientific review of 12 clinical trials including 1,280 patients found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may improve lung function and reduce the need for ventilators in those with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) [7].

Another scientific review of 7 clinical trials of over 2,000 children suggests that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy may reduce the incidence of wheezing and asthma in the child [9].

For every study that supports the use of omega-3 fatty acids, however, there seems to be another study that refutes the results.

Many large clinical trials have found that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids does not affect lung function, including in those with asthma/COPD, ARDS, and during pregnancy [10, 11, 12, 13, 14].

Some studies suggest that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may improve lung function in those with respiratory conditions, but overall the evidence is mixed.

Dosage

The below doses may not apply to you personally. If your doctor suggests using fish oil, work with them to find the optimal dosage according to your health condition and other factors.

There is no official recommended dose of EPA and DHA, but most experts suggest getting about 1-3 grams each day [15].

ALA is considered an essential fatty acid and male adults should get at least 1.6 grams while female adults should get at least 1.1 grams [15].

Food Sources

Ideally, you should get your omega-3 fatty acids from your diet.

Some great sources of ALA include [15]:

The best sources of fish oils (EPA and DHA) include [15]:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel

Takeaway

Omega-3 fatty acids may help fight certain infections and improve lung function. However, research also shows that these fatty acids may make some types of infection worse.

Research has not explored the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the current coronavirus outbreak, but they are an interesting candidate for future research.

For now, the best preventive measures you can take against COVID-19 are standard precautions, including social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding touching your face.

Learn More

About the Author

Mathew Eng

Mathew Eng

PharmD
Mathew received his PharmD from the University of Hawaii and an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Washington.
Mathew is a licensed pharmacist with clinical experience in oncology, infectious disease, and diabetes management. He has a passion for personalized patient care and believes that education is essential to living a healthy life. His goal is to motivate individuals to find ways to manage their chronic conditions.

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