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J Nutr. 2001 Jul;131(7):1918-27.

Dietary supplementation with gamma-linolenic acid or fish oil decreases T lymphocyte proliferation in healthy older humans.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Animal and human studies have shown that greatly increasing the amounts of flax seed oil [rich in the (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) alpha-linolenic acid (ALNA)] or fish oil [FO; rich in the long chain (n-3) PUFA eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] in the diet can decrease mitogen-stimulated lymphocyte proliferation. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of dietary supplementation with moderate levels of ALNA, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), arachidonic acid (ARA), DHA or FO on the proliferation of mitogen-stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and on the production of cytokines by those cells. The study was randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded and parallel. Healthy subjects ages 55-75 y consumed nine capsules/d for 12 wk; the capsules contained placebo oil (an 80:20 mix of palm and sunflower seed oils) or blends of placebo oil with oils rich in ALNA, GLA, ARA or DHA or FO. Subjects in these groups consumed 2 g of ALNA or 770 mg of GLA or 680 mg of ARA or 720 mg of DHA or 1 g of EPA plus DHA (720 mg of EPA + 280 mg of DHA) daily from the capsules. Total fat intake from the capsules was 4 g/d. The fatty acid composition of PBMC phospholipids was significantly changed in the GLA, ARA, DHA and FO groups. Lymphocyte proliferation was not significantly affected by the placebo, ALNA, ARA or DHA treatments. GLA and FO caused a significant decrease (up to 65%) in lymphocyte proliferation. This decrease was partly reversed by 4 wk after stopping the supplementation. None of the treatments affected the production of interleukin-2 or interferon-gamma by PBMC and none of the treatments affected the number or proportion of T or B lymphocytes, helper or cytotoxic T lymphocytes or memory helper T lymphocytes in the circulation. We conclude that a moderate level GLA or EPA but not of other (n-6) or (n-3) PUFA can decrease lymphocyte proliferation but not production of interleukin-2 or interferon-gamma.

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