Many adults take fish oil pills for their omega-3 fatty acid content, which is known for its numerous benefits to the heart and blood. For instance, omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has blood-thinning properties that prevent clotting, thereby lowering the risk of heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids also lower blood pressure, reduces levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, and prevents hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
Recently, scientists discovered another blood benefit brought by omega-3 fatty acids - but it has nothing to do with preventing heart attacks. A study in the medical journal Critical Care discovered that when included in intravenous nutrient solutions, omega-3 fatty acids can help patients recover from sepsis.
Sepsis is a serious blood disease caused by bacteria. These bacteria can come from any part of the body like the skin, lungs, urinary tract, or intestines. The disease kicks in when the bacteria produces toxins that makes the immune system attack its own tissues and organs. Sepsis is a fast-acting disease because it spreads throughout the body through the bloodstream, which leads to complications that damage the brain, kidneys, and lungs. Sepsis can happen to anyone, but people at risk include:
- Adults whose immune systems are impaired due to an illness like AIDS or cancer, or because of medications (such as chemotherapy for cancer patients) that weaken the immune system.
- Young babies, because their immune systems are not designed to handle this disease. If your baby seems lethargic, has no appetite, has trouble breathing, and has a rectal temperature of 38° Celsius, call the doctor immediately.
- The elderly, especially if they have diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
For the last 30 years, doctors have been unable to discover a new, effective treatment for sepsis. However, it's starting to look as though omega-3 fatty acids can help sepsis patients recover faster from the disease. Omega-3 has been added to intravenous solutions for arthritis patients with positive results, and now doctors believe sepsis patients can benefit from this nutrient. The study involved 13 sepsis patients in the intensive care units who received omega-3 fatty acids in their IV solution, and 10 sepsis patients who were given the traditional solution. The traditional solution contains soybean oil, which does not contain the omega-3 fats needed to combat sepsis. In fact, soybean oil has a lot of omega-6 fats, which can promote inflammation if it outnumbers omega-3 fats. After several weeks, doctors observed that patients who received fish oil had better lung function, lower levels of inflammatory chemicals in the blood, and a shorter stay at the hospital.
While doctors aren't sure why patients who consumed omega-3 were able to recover faster, they believe that EPA and DHA provide energy, essential building blocks, and fatty acids needed to combat sepsis. In any case, this discovery is great news for the family and loved ones of sepsis patients.