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What is the Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Immune Functioning?

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
    • The health of our immune system is based on a balance between ramping itself up to fight off infections and tamping itself down to not turn on our own bodies.
    • While aging, stress, poor diet, and inadequate sleep can lead to imbalanced immune systems, we can improve our immune health by exercising, eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, and protecting our mind’s health.
    • In addition, science supports fatty15 (containing pentadecanoic acid) as a way to naturally activate receptors found throughout our body, called PPARs, which regulate our immune response and can also reduce stress and improve sleep.

Authored by: Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH

Inside each of us lies an amazing natural defense system, ready to fight off infections, be it a virus, bacterium, or fungus. While it is important to have these natural defenses, our body can also mistakenly turn on itself, resulting in uncontrolled inflammation, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.[1]

Your immune health is the balance between your body’s ability to successfully stave off infections while not hurting itself.[1] So, you may be wondering, ‘What is the best way for me to keep a balanced immune system?’

Let’s talk about what impacts immune health and how it can be thrown off balance. Then, we’ll cover how essential fatty acids, including fatty15 (a once daily supplement containing C15:0, or pentadecanoic acid), can be an important way for you to support your immune health, resulting in a more balanced and healthier you.*

What impacts your immune health?

While lots of things can affect the health of your immune system, let’s focus on some the most common reasons why our immune health may not be in tip-top shape:

  • Older age. As we age, the signals between our cells can become impaired, resulting in an immune system that does not respond strongly enough when exposed to infections, yet also responds too strongly to inappropriate triggers.[2] This process results in an imbalanced immune system that is both caused by and advances the process of aging.[3]
  • Stress. Our bodies were originally built to respond to stress with extreme responses that enable us to either fight off or run from immediate threats (like, saber-toothed tigers).[4] Today’s more constant stressors, however, can result in ongoing cortisol release that can disable proper immune responses.[4]
  • Poor diet. Essential nutrients are, well…essential to supporting our immune health.[5] These essential nutrients include vitamin C, which helps to boost white blood cells, and essential fatty acids, like omega-3s and C15:0 (aka pentadecanoic acid), that help to regulate our immune system (more on that later). [6,7,8]
  • Inadequate sleep. Ever wonder why you sleep so much when you’re sick? Well, your body uses sleep to shore up your immune system, fight off infections, and heal.[9] In fact, studies have shown that people who do not get enough high-quality sleep over time are more susceptible to imbalanced immune systems and downstream chronic conditions.[9]

So, how can I promote a healthy immune system, especially as I get older?

How to promote your immune health

While you can’t stop time, there are a few steps you can take today to keep your immune system in good shape.

  • Go for a brisk walk. Getting your body moving not only helps to build your muscles and get your heart pumping – it also strengthens your immune system.[10] As an added bonus, exercise may also reduce stress.[11] Studies have shown that people who exercise are less likely to develop conditions associated with an unhealthy immune system.[12]
  • Go healthy-food shopping. Eat a healthy diet that includes foods with immune-boosting vitamin C (like oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli), as well immune-regulating omega-3 fatty acids (like seafood, nuts, and plant oils).[6,7] Below, we’ll discuss pentadecanoic acid (also called C15:0), a natural odd-chain saturated fatty acid with immune-regulating activites.*[8]
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Give your body a chance to shore up your immune system. Every night. While you sleep.[9] You can doing this by following routines that set you up for a good, deep sleep, including exercising daily, minimizing alcohol consumption, and winding down those exciting activities as you head towards bedtime.
  • Laugh (aka, lower your anxiety). Repeated studies have shown that laughter really can be the best (or at least complimentary) medicine. In addition to the short-term benefits of increasing good-feeling endorphins, helping you relax, and soothing tension, laughter and positive thinking help your brain release neuropeptides that can reduce anxiety and improve your immune health.[13]

As we mentioned above, specific nutrients can promote your immune health, including essential fatty acids. To learn more about the role of essential fatty acids in balancing our immune systems, read on.

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How essential fatty acids promote your immune health

Essential fatty acids are critical nutrients that our bodies need to maintain physiological health.[14] Since essential fatty acids help us stay healthy - and our bodies don’t make enough of them on their own - we must get adequate levels of these nutrients from either our diet or dietary supplements.[15]

For a long time, only two fatty acids were known to be essential.[15] The first is an omega-3 fatty acid, called alpha-linolenic acid. The second is an omega-6 fatty acid, called linoleic acid. It has taken another 90 years to discover what science now supports as the third essential fatty acid – pentadecanoic acid (aka C15:0, pronounced see-fifteen)*[8] While the omegas are typically found in fish, nuts, and seed oils, our most common sources of C15:0 are butter and other whole fat dairy products.[16]

So, how do essential fatty acids promote immune system health? Repeated studies have shown that essential fatty acids and their derivatives can help keep our immune systems balanced.[7,8] They are able to do this, in part, by naturally activating receptors present throughout our bodies, called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (or PPARs, pronounced pee-pars).[8,17] Once activated, PPARs can help tame excessive pro-inflammatory cytokines and promote a healthy immune response.[18]

Many people choose to supplement their diets with omega-rich fish or algae oils. Other people, however, choose not to take omega supplements. Here’s why.

Omega and fish oil supplements are:

  • Oily
  • Fishy smelling
  • Susceptible to oxidation (both in the bottle and your body)
  • Require large daily doses (think, 2 grams)
  • Contain a mix of lots of other things in fish and algae oil
  • Can cause gassy stomach upset

In contrast, people may opt to get the immune-regulating benefits of an essential fatty acid by taking fatty15, an easy-to-use supplement containing only one ingredient: FA15TM, a pure powder form of C15:0.*

Fatty15 has the following bonuses over omega-3s:*

  • Pure, white powder
  • No taste or smell
  • Stable at room temperature and not susceptible to oxidation
  • Small, once daily dose (think, 100 milligrams)
  • Just C15:0 as an ingredient and nothing else
  • No fish oil after-effects

In addition to helping to promoting a healthy immune system[8], our studies have demonstrated that fatty15 helps to promote your overall health by:*

  • Improving your energy production. Fatty15 helps to restore impaired mitochondrial function, enabling your cells’ batteries to pump out the energy your cells need to keep your metabolism in tip-top shape.[8]
  • Helping cells stay resilient and functioning. Fatty15 makes your cells less fragile by incorporating sturdy C15:0 into your cells’ membranes, enabling them to live and function longer as a key part of your metabolism.[8]
  • Restoring your general wellness. Fatty15 naturally binds to receptors, called PPARs (pronounced pee-pars) alpha and delta, that are found throughout your body and brain.[8] PPARs alpha and delta orchestrate your metabolism and immunity, as well as your moodappetite, and sleep.[19,20,21]

With fatty15, you now have the option to protect your immune (and overall) health and age on your own terms.* 

Read the science 

For a summary of peer-reviewed and published science on C15:0 (pentadecanoic acid), including our studies in Scientific Reports demonstrating C15:0 as an essential fatty acid, natural PPAR activator, and regulator of immune health, please click here.

1. Parkin, J. et al. An overview of the immune system. Lancet 357:1777-1789 (2001).

2. Castelo-Branco, C. & Soveral, I. The immune system and aging: a review. Gynecol Endocrinol 30:1-7.

3. Weyand, C.M. & Goronzy, J.J. Aging of the immune system. Mechanisms and therapeutic targets. Ann Am Thorac Soc 13:S422-S428 (2016).

4. Morey, J.N. et al. Current directions in stress and human immune function. Curr Opin Psychol 5:13-17 (2015).

5. Good, R.A. Nutrition and immunity. J Clin Immunol 1:3-11 (1981).

6. Carr, A.C. & Maggini, S. Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients 9:1211 (2017).

7. Gutierrez. S. et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on immune cells. Int J Mol 20:5028 (2019).

8. Venn-Watson, S. et al. Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? Sci Rep 10:8161 (2020).

9. Besedovsky, L. et al. The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiol Rev 99:1325-1380.

10. Pedersen, B.K. & Hoffman-Goetz, L. Exercise and the immune system: regulation, integration, and adaptation. Physiol Rev 80:1055-1081 (2000).

11. Stonerock, G.L. et al. Exercise as treatment for anxiety: systematic review and analysis. Ann Behav Med 49:542-556 (2015).

12. Wang, J. et al. Exercise regulates the immune system. In: Xiao J. (eds) Physical Exercise for Human Health. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 1228. Springer, Singapore. pp. 395-408 (2020).

13. Mayo Clinic Staff. Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456.

14. Kaur, N. et al. Essential fatty acids as functional components of foods – a review. J Food Sci Tech 51:2289-2303 (2014).

15. Das, U.N. Essential fatty acids: biochemistry, physiology and pathology. Biotech J 1:420-439 (2006).

16. Jenkins, B. et al. A review of odd-chain fatty acid metabolism and the role of pentadecanoic acid (C15:0) and heptadecanoic acid (C17:0) in health and disease. Molecules 20:2425-2444 (2015).

17. Kliewer, S.A. Fatty acids and eicosanoids regulate gene expression through direct interactions with peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors alpha and gamma. PNAS 94:4318-4323 (1997).

18. Christofides, A. et al. The role of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR) in immune responses. Metabolism 114:154338 (2021).

19. Nisbett KE, Pinna G. Emerging therapeutic role of PPAR-α in cognition and emotions. Frontiers Pharmacol 9:998 (2018).

20. Schwartz, G.J. et al. The lipid messenger OEA links dietary fat intake to satiety. Cell Metab 8:281-288 (2008).

21. Kanda, T. et al.  Sleep as a biological problem: an overview of frontiers in sleep research. J Physiol Sci 66:1-13 (2016).




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Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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