T-regulatory (Treg) cells are the police force of our immune system. As their name suggests, Treg cells regulate our body’s immune response by suppressing it when it isn’t needed. They are extremely important in preventing autoimmunity, which occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells.
FOXP3 is a protein of the FOX protein family. It plays a role in the differentiation of Tregs during their production. Some Tregs use other protein markers, but FOXP3+ Tregs are the most studied, so these are the ones we will be referring to in these blogs when we say “Tregs.”
We know that the body deploys Tregs to deal with inflammation and disease, but we are increasingly learning the importance of “tissue-resident Tregs” for maintaining overall balance, even if there is no immediate need for an immune response. Tissue-resident Tregs live in our tissues and keep those environments stable. We are still learning about the mechanisms these resident Tregs use, but there is a strong possibility that specific types of fat play a vital role.
What does oil have to do with it?
All Treg cells require fatty acids to be produced and function effectively. The process they use is called ‘fatty acid β-oxidation–driven (FAO-driven) oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS)’. The important part to remember is that FAO (fatty acids and oxygen) are needed. Fatty acids = lipids = fats = oils. Recent data shows that the types of fatty acids Tregs use for this process greatly impact their suppressive function.
Our tissues have a lot of fat cells mixed into them, so Tregs that live in tissue have easy access to lipids. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation compared the concentrations of different types of fatty acids in healthy tissue versus tissue from a person with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
MS is an autoimmune disease that results when someone’s Tregs are not policing the immune system correctly, causing them to attack the myelin sheaths surrounding nerves. You can visualize the myelin sheath if you think about the coating surrounding a wire. Imagine your own Treg cells eating away at that protective coating, exposing the nerve (or wire) to damage.
Because of the nerve damage, MS patients can experience a gradual loss of feeling and function in their limbs, pain, weakness/fatigue, muscle spasms and eventually serious problems with inner organ function.
In the study, researchers found that tissue from healthy individuals contained much higher concentrations of oleic acid than tissue from MS patients. Oleic acid promotes the Treg FAO-driven metabolic process and consequently increases FOXP3 production, which of course promotes more Treg production. This positive feedback loop is responsible for maintaining balance.
While healthy tissue had a lot of oleic acids, tissue affected by MS had much higher concentrations of proinflammatory arachidonic acid. The Tregs in MS tissue used primarily arachidonic acid, instead of oleic acid, for their FAO-driven metabolism. These Tregs had defects in their suppressive function (ability to suppress the immune system when it is overreacting).
The most interesting thing is, when researchers exposed the defected Tregs to oleic acid, their suppressive function was partially restored. This same trend proved true when the oleic acid exposure treatment was applied to patients with MS.
Sources of oleic acid:
While walnuts and fish count as sources for oleic acid, at Dr. Autoimmune, we make sure everyone is getting a good dose through high-quality olive oil. The oil we provide our patients with is organic extra virgin olive oil from Spain pressed from Picual olives. When Picual olives are out of season, we switch to an organic Italian oil of equal quality. Dr. Autoimmune has done his due diligence and chosen the absolute best oil at the best price for you.
If you are looking for help getting your MS symptoms under control, contact us using the form below. Dr. Autoimmune’s team is eager to empower you with the tools and support you need in order to tackle your health goals. Mention this blog and receive 15% off our premium olive oil!