In vitro and animal studies point to numerous mechanisms by which fatty acids, especially long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), can modulate the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system. These data strongly suggest that improving the fatty acid supply of young children in low-income countries might have immune benefits.

Unfortunately, there have been virtually no studies of fatty acid/immune interactions in such settings. Clinical trial registers list over 150 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) involving PUFAs, only one in a low-income setting (the Gambia). We summarize those results here. There was evidence for improved growth and nutritional status, but the primary end point of chronic environmental enteropathy showed no benefit, possibly because the infants were still substantially breastfed.

In high-income settings, there have been RCTs with fatty acids (usually LCPUFAs) in relation to 18 disease end points, for some of which there have been numerous trials (asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis). For these diseases, the evidence is judged reasonable for risk reduction for childhood asthma (but not in adults), as yielding possible benefit in Crohn's disease (insufficient evidence in ulcerative colitis) and for convincing evidence for rheumatoid arthritis at sufficient dose levels, though formal meta-analyses are not yet available.

This analysis suggests that fatty acid interventions could yield immune benefits in children in poor settings, especially in non-breastfed children and in relation to inflammatory conditions such as persistent enteropathy. Benefits might include improved responses to enteric vaccines, which frequently perform poorly in low-income settings, and these questions merit randomized trials.

This study was conducted using Nordic Naturals Arctic Omega™/Omega-3
The dose used was ½ teaspoon/day.