1Consuming an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA can help stop a known trigger of lupus, an inflammatory autoimmune disease, researchers at Michigan State University in the US have found after successful tests on mice.

Autoimmune disease remains a relative mystery for the medical profession. Autoimmune disorders attack body’s immune system and destroy healthy tissue by mistake.

Their onset is difficult to explain, as the causes of autoimmune disease remain unknown. These multi-factor conditions are thought to be triggered by imbalances in microbiota, genetic factors, environmental factors — such as exposure to the toxic mineral crystalline silica — and viral infections.

By targeting one of the specific risk factors for lupus — crystalline silica exposure — a team of researchers at Michigan State University found that consuming an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid) could stop the activation of this known trigger of the disease, and potentially other autoimmune disorders.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain oils, such as canola oil and walnut oil, as well as in oily fish. Intake usually comes from small quantities in our diets, but fish oil supplements can also be used.

They found that 96% of lung lesions triggered by silica exposure were stopped by DHA. “I’ve never seen such a dramatic protective response in the lung before,” said Jack Harkema, one of the study’s authors.

The researchers suggest that DHA could help cells send an anti-inflammatory signal to the body and change the way in which cells react to silica in the lungs, somehow modifying the immune system’s response. Another theory is that DHA could help cells absorb and remove silica without dying, again preventing an inflammatory response.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that is more frequent in women than men. It can cause damage to any part of the body, such as skin, joints, kidneys, the heart or the brain. The disease can be limited to the skin or it can spread to affect several organs, with serious consequences if not treated effectively.

The study is published in the journal Plos One.