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n-3 Fatty acids and the inflammatory response — biological background

R. De Caterina, G. Basta
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1520-765X(01)90118-X D42-D49 First published online: 1 June 2001


Inflammation can be defined as the reaction of a living vascularized tissue to a localized damage, and plays a role in both normal repair reactions and in the pathogenesis of disease. Inflammatory phenomena are at the basis of a number of disease processes in virtually any systemic or organ-specific disease, ranging from classical rheumatic diseases to bronchial airway hyper-responsiveness, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney diseases, psoriasis and atopic eczema. Modulation of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intake, mostly by increasing the relative proportions of n-3 versus n-6 fatty acids, is the clearest example of how diet may modulate the inflammatory process. It is possible that many of the environmentally attributable epidemiological differences in the incidence of inflammatory diseases among different populations can be tracked back to different nutritional intake of selected, quantitatively minor nutritional components such as omega-3 fatty acids. The increase in dietary intake of these compounds, or their pharmacological supplementation, leads to a moderate quenching of the inflammatory reaction which may prove useful in selected clinical conditions. The clarification of the mechanisms of the biological action of these, as well as of other dietary components, and a better documentation of the spectrum of clinical possibilities offered by dietary manipulation in the intake of such compounds, linking together classical nutritional science, molecular biology, epidemiology and clinical medicine, are a frontier for nutritional research in the years to come. This nutritional approach promises to gain a place in the therapy of some inflammatory disorders.