- Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which affects 5 million people worldwide
- Lupus can be triggered by a toxic mineral, crystalline silica that is linked to autoimmunity
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that can stop a known trigger of lupus
What is DHA?Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that can be found in fatty and cold water fishes. Omega- 3 fatty acids do not naturally occur in the fish. DHA is produced by the algae that fish eat and stored in their bodies. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and fish oil supplements are good sources of DHA. Some other sources of DHA include egg and dairy products.
‘Eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or taking fish oil supplements may prevent the onset of lupus (autoimmune disease).’
How can Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prevent Lupus?Researchers discovered that lupus could be triggered by a toxic mineral called crystalline silica, also known as quartz, which is linked to autoimmunity in humans.
"When lupus was triggered by crystalline silica, DHA blocked the activation of the disease," said Melissa Bates, one of the study's lead authors and a doctoral student in MSU's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Toxicology.
A preclinical study was conducted in mice that were genetically predisposed to the disease. The researchers looked at the effect of DHA on lupus lesions in the lungs and kidneys of mice. The findings showed that lung lesions triggered by the silica were stopped with DHA by 96 percent.
The researchers came up with two theories on how DHA can block the trigger for an autoimmune disease. One theory is that DHA helps the cells send an anti-inflammatory signal to the body, so it does not trigger an autoimmune response. The second is that DHA allows the cells to swallow up and remove the toxic mineral silica from the lung without dying, thus preventing the inflammatory signals from being sent.
Jack Harkema, another study author, and the pulmonary pathologist said, "I've never seen such a dramatic protective response in the lung before. Cells in the lung can gobble up the silica, but it's so toxic, it kills these cells. When they die, signals are sent out to the immune system that something is wrong. The body then produces such a strong response that it also starts to target healthy cells."
Harkema said, "The DHA could be changing the way these cells, also known as macrophages, react to the silica in the lungs and somehow alter the immune system's response."
Although it is unknown why DHA can prevent the onset of lupus, the researchers hope that their study provides a better model for looking at how much DHA is needed to ward off the environmental trigger of the disease.
James Pestka, a University Distinguished Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition, said, "What we do know is this study is a clear indication that eating DHA can prevent this one type of environmental triggering of lupus."
"It can suppress many of the disease's signaling pathways, which current drugs on the market now try to target and treat," said Pestka, who also co-led the research with Bates and Harkema.
The research was funded by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Lupus Foundation of America.
The findings of the study are published in PLOS ONE.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which is also considered to be genetic. The body's immune system attacks itself and can damage any part of the body, including the skin, joints, and organs.
Lupus can be triggered by inhaling toxic minerals like crystalline silica and also by other environmental factors such as sun exposure. Quartz is the dangerous form of crystalline silica found in the agriculture, construction and mining industries where workers are more likely to inhale the toxic mineral.
Some infections and medications such as antibiotics, anti-seizure and blood pressure can cause lupus. The signs and symptoms of lupus include butterfly rash on the face, fatigue, fever, joint pain, swelling, skin lesions, and sensitivity to the sun. There is no cure for lupus, but lifestyle changes and medications can keep the disease under control.
Facts About Lupus
- Globally, about 5 million people have some form of lupus.
- An estimated 1.5 million Americans have lupus. At least 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported every year in the United States.
- Lupus is more likely to affect women between the ages of 15 and 44. Men, children, and teenagers also develop lupus.
- African-American women are three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasian women.
- The most severe forms of lupus are common among African-American and Hispanic women.
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