Ulcerative colitis, a common form of inflammatory bowel disease, is accompanied by an increased level of leukotriene B4 in the lining of the colon. Fish oils are known to inhibit the synthesis of leukotrienes and it has therefore been postulated that they might be beneficial in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco, California have released the results of a study aimed at testing this hypothesis.
The study involved 11 male patients aged 31 to 74 years who had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The patients were randomized into two groups with one group receiving 15 fish oil capsules (providing 2.7 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 1.8 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) daily); the other group received placebo capsules (olive oil). After 3 months on the supplements all participants underwent a 2-month wash-out period and were then assigned to the opposite treatment to what they had received during the first stage for another 3 months. Clinical evaluations of all patients were performed at the start of the study and every month thereafter.
Evaluation of the patients' clinical data at the end of the treatment periods showed a significant beneficial effect of fish oil supplementation. The mean disease severity score for the patients on fish oil declined by 56% as compared to 4% for the placebo group. Eight of the 11 patients (72%) were able to markedly reduce or totally eliminate their use of anti-inflammatory medication and steroids while taking the fish oils.
The researchers conclude that fish oil supplementation results in a marked clinical improvement of active mild to moderate ulcerative colitis.
Aslan, Alex and Triadafilopoulos, George. Fish oil fatty acid supplementation in active ulcerative colitis: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. American Journal of Gastroenterology, Vol. 87, April 1992, pp. 432-37
Researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, NY report that fish oil supplementation is highly effective in alleviating ulcerative colitis. Their small pilot study involved 10 patients with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis who had not been helped by conventional medical therapy. The patients were given 15 capsules of fish oil daily containing a total of 2.7 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 1.8 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The capsules were taken in 3 divided doses for an 8-week period. All patients underwent rigid sigmoidoscopy at entry to the study, at 4 weeks, and at the completion of the study. They also kept a daily log of the number of bowel movements, stool consistency, and any side effects. At the end of the 8 weeks, 7 out of the 10 patients showed marked to moderate improvement and 4 out of 5 patients on prednisone were able to reduce their daily dose by 20 to 66%.
The researchers speculate that the EPA in the fish oil interferes with the synthesis of the highly inflammatory leukotriene B4 in the lining of the colon and that this effect accounts for the improvement. They recommend a large, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial to confirm the beneficial effects of fish oil supplementation in ulcerative colitis patients.
Salomon, Peter, et al. Treatment of ulcerative colitis with fish oil n-3-omega fatty acid: an open trial. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1990, pp. 157-61