SPM-enriched fish oils may help control immune responses: RCT

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / stocksnapper
© Getty Images / stocksnapper

Related tags Omega-3s Inflammation Immune response specialized pro-resolving mediators

Fish oil enriched with specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) precursors may reprogram key blood cells and help control immune responses in healthy people, says a new clinical trial from the UK.

The study used Metagenics’ SPM Active​ product, which is enriched with SPM precursors standardized to 18-hydroxy-eicosapentaenoic acid (18-HEPE) and 17-hydroxy-docosahexaenoic acid (17-HDHA).

Supplementation with the SPM precursor-enriched fish oil led to significant increases in blood SPM levels and to dose-dependent increase in defense against bacteria, or “neutrophil and monocyte phagocytosis of bacteria”,​ in technical terms.

The data, which was published in Circulation Research,​ also indicated the fish oil reduced the diurnal activation of both leukocytes (white blood cells) and platelets, as indicated by the declines in the expression of adhesion molecules. The molecules play a role in inflammation.

Transcriptomic analysis of peripheral blood cells indicated a “significant enrichment of genes involved in immune regulation and peripheral blood cell responses after marine oil supplementation when compared with placebo treated volunteers,”​ reported scientists from Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust and William Harvey Research Institute.

“… these findings indicate that changes in peripheral blood SPM concentrations are linked with a reprograming of peripheral blood cell responses towards a protective phenotype.”


Our immune response has two distinct phases: An initiation phase and then a resolution phase. While the resolution phase was long considered to be passive, recent data indicates that it is controlled by a structured and orderly system.

SPMs play a central role in this resolution: They are produced at the affected tissue site and function as “resolution agonists”, whereby they orchestrate the resolution-related activities and facilitate a return to the previous healthy condition.

A spokesperson for Metagenics previously told NutraIngredients-USA​: “If an individual is unable to produce desirable levels of SPMs–due to lifestyle behaviour, dietary choices, or health status–in response to an immune challenge, the resolution of the immune response can be impacted. Since SPMs have been found to be critical for the resolution, SPM supplementation represents a more targeted nutritional approach to support the resolution of the immune response.”

“Promoting the resolution of inflammation allows the body to defend better”

Commenting independently on the study, Marc Dubourdeau, President of Ambiotis SAS​ in France, a contract research organization specializing in inflammation resolution, told NutraIngredients that the work is of “particular interest since it demonstrates by a double-blind study that the oral intake of capsules which contain SPM precursors leads to an increase of SPM in the blood. The presence of blood SPM is correlated with an increase of the immune system capacities to fight infections in a dose-dependent manner.

“This study therefore reinforces the hypothesis that promoting the resolution of inflammation allows the body to defend better,”​ said Dubourdeau. “It is important to note that the activation of the immune system is persistent since it is still present 24 hours after taking the capsules, which again shows that when the resolution process is initiated a lasting protective physiological loop starts.

“To conclude, this study underlines that the increase of SPM in the blood seems the most relevant parameter to follow as SPM increase is associated with a reprogramming of the blood cells and the improvement of the immune capacities.”

Study details

Metagenics SPM Active
The study used Metagenics’ SPM Active product

The UK-based scientists recruited 22 healthy people aged 19 to 37to participate in their double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. The volunteers were randomly assigned to receive one or three doses of SPM Active, or placebo. Blood samples collected at the start and then again after two, four, six, and 24 hours.

The results showed that peripheral blood SPM concentration increased in a time and dose-dependent manner.

The researchers cautioned about generalizing the results to all omega-3 supplements, noting that the study used a very specific supplement, which was enriched with SPMs.

“Given that fatty acid forms may differ between supplements (eg, triglycerides versus ethyl esters) and that this may influence the availability of SPM precursors and substrates for conversion to bioactive mediators, future studies will need to determine the dose response relationships for each supplement form in regulating both peripheral blood SPM concentrations and immune responses,” ​they wrote.

Source: Circulation Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.119.315506
“Enriched Marine Oil Supplements Increase Peripheral Blood Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators Concentrations and Reprogram Host Immune Responses: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study”
Authors: P.R. Souza, et al.

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