Monday, March 7, 2011

Omega 3 Attenuates Exercise Induced Rise in Inflammatory Markers, BUT is This Necessarily a Good Thing?

I want to take the results of a recent study (Bakhtyar. 2011) published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine as an opportunity to readdress the question of whether or not the Omega 3 induced suppression of inflammation must be considered a good or a bad thing, both in view of athletic performance, as well from a health and longevity perspective.

Those of you, who listened to my interview on Carl Lenore's Super Human Radio show, will know that my understanding of "inflammation" is somewhat different from the mass market "explanation" of "a fire that causes damage". To be precise inflammation, or what scientists generally measure, is the release of signals (inflammatory markers) that tell immune cells to do their jobs. So, saying that inflammation is the root of all disease would be like saying that someone who calls the firefighters is to blame for the fire - but I am digressing from the topic at hand...

After administering 1.5g/day of an omega 3 supplement (experimental group) to every third of 45 previously untrained volunteers, Bakhtyar et al. found the subjects' "inflammatory" response to eccentric exercise to be modified:
The experimental group showed less elevation in TNF-α and PGE2 immediately, 24, and 48 hours after exercise, when compared with the other groups. Significantly less elevation was shown in the concentration of IL-6, CK, and Mb for the experimental group at 24 and 48 hours after exercise. The experimental group also demonstrated a significant trend toward reduction in the plasma concentration of LDH immediately, 24, and 48 hours after the exercise program.
Now, what does this tell us about the training effect and health outcomes of the exercise regimen?
  • With inflammation being a not yet fully understood prerequisite for muscular repair and hypertrophy, it would warrant further investigations like muscle biopsies and consistent training regimens with continuously monitored strength and muscle gains to conclude that omega 3 supplementation is beneficial in terms of physical performance.
  • In view of the conclusions Pedersen draws in a recent review (Pedersen. 2011) of the role of exercise induced myokines, i.e. inflammatory markers released by muscles (myo- = muscle-), in chronic disease, blunting of muscular IL-6 release, which has been linked to muscular AMPK activation, increased glucose uptake and fat oxidation, omega 3 supplementation is probably counter-indicated in a health oriented exercise regimen, anyway.
I hope more scientists such as Pedersen will begin to question the current "anti-inflammatory" paradigm, so that major players in the medial landscape will be forced to take on their findings and stop portraying long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in general and fish oil in particular as the savior of the fat and diabetic. Instead they should encourage people to finally get their asses off their sofas to induce exactly that amount of healthy, exercise-induced inflammation omega 3 supplementation appeared to suppress in the aforementioned study.