Compounds derived from omega-3 fatty acids – like those found in salmon – might be the key to helping the body combat lung infections, according to researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
The omega-3 derivatives were effective at clearing a type of bacteria called Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi), which often plagues people with inflammatory diseases like COPD.
COPD, which is most often caused by years of smoking, is characterized by inflammation and excessive mucus in the lungs that blocks airflow. Quitting can slow the progress of COPD, but it doesn’t halt the disease. Anti-inflammatory drugs are the most common treatment, however they suppress the immune system, which can put people with COPD at risk for secondary infections, most commonly NTHi bacterial infections.
“Our biggest concern with patients who have COPD is bacterial infections, which often put their lives at risk,” said Richard Phipps, PhD, professor of Environmental Medicine and director of the URSMD Lung Biology and Disease Program. “If we can figure out how to predict who is likely to get an infection, physicians could put them on a preventative medication.”
In his recent study, which was featured in the March 15 issue of The Journal of Immunology, Phipps and lead author, Amanda Croasdell, a graduate student in the Toxicology program, tested the effectiveness of an inhalable omega-3 derivative to prevent NTHi lung infections in mice.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish like sardines and salmon, are touted for their many health benefits. These superstars of the diet world are normally broken down to form molecules that help turn off inflammation after an infection or injury.
Unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs, the specialized agent used in this study reduced inflammation in the lungs of mice without suppressing the ability to clear the bacteria. In fact, it could actually hasten the process of clearing bacteria. Phipps and his colleagues believe they are the first to show that this special compound can improve lung function in the face of live bacteria.