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Omega-3 fatty acids benefit patients with inflammation and autoimmune diseases

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can offer significant benefits to patients suffering from inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and depression, researchers concluded in the December 2002 Journal of American College Nutrition.

After reviewing the evidence, the researchers noted that animal experiments and clinical intervention studies demonstrated that the fish-oil derived omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), act as anti-inflammatories and consequently might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. They also pointed out that patients with diseases characterized by an increased level of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin 1 (IL-1)—such as coronary heart disease, major depression, aging and cancer—may benefit from consuming omega-3s found in fish oil.

Arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and lupus erythematosis also are autoimmune diseases characterized by a high level of IL-1 and other proinflammatory substances produced by omega-6 fatty acids. It is thought that an overabundance of omega-6s and a lack of omega-3s in the diet may be responsible for inflammation. This may explain, the researchers wrote, why dietary supplementation with fish oils in clinical trials have alleviated the symptoms of several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in humans, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches. In fact, many of the placebo-controlled trials of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefit, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.


Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 Fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12480795&dopt=Abstract

Key concepts: Omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus