Several fatty acids can potentially exert effects on inflammation and immunity. Arachidonic acid gives rise to inflammatory mediators (eicosanoids) and through these regulates the activities of inflammatory cells, the Th1 versus Th2 balance and B-cell function. It is generally considered that n-3 PUFAs act as arachidonic acid antagonists. As such, among the fatty acids, it is the n-3 PUFAs that are believed to possess the most potent immunomodulatory activities, and, among the n-3 fatty acids, those from fish oil (EPA and DHA) are more biologically potent than a-linolenic acid. Components of both natural and acquired immunity, including the production of key inflammatory mediators, can be affected by n-3 PUFAs. Although some of the effects of n-3 fatty acids may be brought about by modulation of the amount and types of eicosanoids made, it is possible that these fatty acids might exert some of their effects by eicosanoid-independent mechanisms, including actions upon intra-cellular signalling pathways and transcription-factor activity. There is some evidence that n-3 fatty-acid-induced effects may be of use as a therapy for acute and chronic inflammation and for disorders that involve an inappropriately activated immune response. However, more needs to be understood about the effects of individual fatty acids against different backgrounds (e.g. levels and types of fat in the diet), about the dose-response effects of n-3 PUFAs, about interactions between PUFAs and other dietary components, especially antioxidant vitamins, and about the differences in immune effects of fatty acids between health and disease.

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