Fish oil supplements can help prevent Chagas disease, reveals study

Omega-3 fatty acids are widely-known for their heart-healthy benefits, but they’re more than just that. According to a recent study, they are also effective against parasitic infections, such as Chagas disease, a disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.

There is some evidence on the potential beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on host resistance to parasitic infection. From this, researchers from Brazil and Columbia hypothesized that daily consumption of fish oil, which is rich in long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, before and during a T. cruzi infection would adversely affect morbidity and mortality. T. cruzi infection is curable if treatment is applied immediately after infection.

To test their hypothesis, they examined the effects of fish oil supplementation on key hematological and immunological responses to an acute T. cruzi infection in a mouse model. They gave mice with phosphate-buffered saline, corn oil, or menhaden fish oil — a fat source rich in omega-3 fatty acids — for 15 days. Then, they exposed the mice to T. cruzi strain and throughout the early stages of infection.

The results revealed that in general, supplementation of fish oil attenuated the severity of symptoms of T. cruzi parasitic infection, also referred to as American trypanosomiasis, during its early stages. It also resulted in significantly lower levels of parasites in the blood at seven days after infection compared to other treatments, and parasites in the animals’ heart tissue declined by up to 60 percent 12 days after infection.

In the early stages of T. cruzi infection, leukopenia or a decrease in the number of white blood cells, and thrombocytopenia or abnormally low levels of blood platelets, typically occur. However, with fish oil supplementation, these were reduced. The treatment also decreased circulating and cardiac nitric oxide at the seventh and 12th days after infection. Moreover, supplementation with fish oil also significantly reduced prostaglandin E2 production.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that fish oil supplementation may be an effective natural treatment for Chagas disease as it can help reduce the severity of symptoms of T. cruzi parasitic infection during its early stages. These findings were published in the journal Nutrition Research.

As of late, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately six million to seven million people around the world are infected with T. cruzi, and most of these people are from the rural areas of Latin America, where it is mostly vector-borne transmitted to humans. (Related: Infectious disease experts confirm immigration from Latin America bringing wave of infectious “Chagas disease” into California.)

Fish oil and uterine infections

Fish oil can also help prevent pregnancy complications that are caused by a common oral bacteria referred to as Fusobacterium nucleatum, according to a new study published in the journal JCI Insight. The study suggested that taking supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids can be a potential strategy for protecting pregnancy in women as about 10 to 30 percent of pregnancy complications have been attributed to uterine infections caused by F. nucleatum.

This type of bacteria is present in the mouths of everyone. However, it starts to be potentially harmful when it travels to other parts of the body, such as the placenta which is at an increased risk for infection in pregnant women.

For the study, researchers from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons used a mouse model to inject the bacteria into mice during their third trimester of pregnancy. As a result, bacteria invaded the animals’ uteri and promoted inflammation that led to preterm births.

Now that they have determined how F. nucleatum bacteria trigger inflammation within the placenta, the researchers used cultured cells in search of ways to stop those mechanisms. They considered treating mice with omega-3 fatty acid supplements like fish oil which are known to fight inflammation. The results showed that fish oil supplements inhibited inflammation and bacterial growth in pregnant mice, reducing preterm births, miscarriages, and stillbirths.

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