Distal procto-colitis, natural cytotoxicity, and essential fatty acids

Y. Z. Almallah*, S. Richardson, T. O'Hanrahan, N. A.G. Mowat, P. W. Brunt, T. S. Sinclair, S. Ewen, S. D. Heys, O. Eremin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Recently, it has been postulated that patients with ulcerative colitis have altered natural cytotoxicity, in particular natural killer (NK) and lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cell activities. These cellular mechanisms have been postulated to play an etiological role in the pathogenesis of the disease process. We have shown previously that the essential fatty acids (EFA) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) specifically inhibit natural cytotoxicity. Our aim was to evaluate the role of omega-3 EFA in the modulation of natural cytotoxicity and disease activity in patients with distal procto-colitis. Methods: In this pilot study patients were randomized into two groups. Each patient received either fish oil extract (EPA, 3.2 g, and DHA, 2.4 g) (n = 9) or sunflower oil (placebo) (n = 9) daily in a double-blind manner for 6 months. Monthly assessments of disease activity (clinical and sigmoidoscopic scores) and histological evaluation of mucosal biopsies were carried out. Also, the circulating levels and activities of NK and LAK cells, using flow cytometric analysis (CD16+ CD56+) and in vitro 51 chromium release assays (K562), respectively, were monitored. Results: After 6 months' supplementation with EFA, there was improvement in the clinical activity compared with pretreatment evaluation. There was significant reduction in the sigmoidoscopic and histological scores in the EFA group compared with the placebo group. Essential fatty acid supplementation for 6 months also induced significant reduction in the circulating numbers of CD16+ and CD56+ cells and the cytotoxic activity of NK cells, compared with the placebo group. Conclusions: This pilot study has demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids can suppress natural cytotoxicity and reduce disease activity in patients with distal procto-colitis. These findings suggest a therapeutic strategy for managing patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)804-809
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican journal of gastroenterology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 1998

Bibliographical note

The authors thank Callanish Ltd (Isle of Lewis) for supplying the oil preparations and Aberdeen Royal Hospitals NHS Trust for funding part of this study.


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