CVD is associated with a cellular inflammatory/immune response. n-3 PUFA and moderate aerobic exercise independently alter cytokine production and leucocyte function. There is limited evidence for the combined effect of these treatments on immune function, particularly in patients with risk factors for CVD.

We hypothesised that exercise would enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of n-3 PUFA. In a randomised, placebo-controlled study, fifty volunteers were allocated double-blind to consume either sunflower oil (6 g/d, placebo) or DHA-rich fish oil (6 g/d; about 2 g n-3 PUFA; 1.6 g DHA /d) for 12 weeks. Volunteers were further randomised to undertake regular exercise (walking 3 d/week for 45 min at 75 % of maximum heart rate) or maintain their usual physical activity for 12 weeks. Immune functions were assessed in blood taken initially and after 12 weeks. There was no effect on cytokine production by T cells and monocytes. Superoxide anion production from stimulated blood neutrophils was decreased by fish oil (19.5 (sem 8.5) %, P = 0.016) but not by exercise, and this change was negatively correlated with the incorporation of DHA into erythrocytes (r-0.385, P = 0.047).

Participation in regular exercise maintained neutrophil bactericidal activity, which decreased in non-exercising subjects (2.9 (sem 0.7) %, P = 0.013). Neutrophil chemotaxis and adherence were not significantly affected by exercise, oil, or the combination of the two.

Thus the combination of moderate exercise and fish-oil supplementation, which reduces cardiovascular risk, may also help to counteract inflammation