ALBANY, NEW YORK. Raynaud's phenomenon is characterized by periods of disrupted blood flow to the fingers caused by exposure to cold or stress. The condition is relieved by warming the affected parts. It is estimated that about 4% of the US population suffer from the primary form of this phenomenon, the so-called Raynaud's disease. Secondary Raynaud's phenomenon occurs in association with connective tissue disease (progressive systemic sclerosis).
Researchers at the Albany Medical College now report that supplementation with fish oils significantly reduces the symptoms of Raynaud's disease (primary Raynaud's phenomenon), but has no beneficial effects in secondary Raynaud's phenomenon. Their double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involved 32 patients, 20 with primary disease and 12 with Raynaud's phenomenon secondary to progressive systemic sclerosis. The patients were exposed to a series of experiments which involved immersing their left hand into increasingly colder water baths for a five-minute period and then measuring the blood flow and systolic pressure in the index finger. Half the patients were given 12 1-gram fish oil capsules daily containing a total of 3.96 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 2.64 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) while the other half received 12 olive oil capsules per day for a 12-week period.
The fish oil supplementation was found to be highly effective in alleviating the symptoms of Raynaud's disease. At the 12-week checkup the systolic pressure measured after immersion in the 15o C water bath increased by 40 mm Hg in the fish oil group compared to a drop of 3 mm Hg in the placebo group. Five of 11 patients who developed symptoms before the start of the experiment could not be induced to develop symptoms at all when evaluated after 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation. The researchers conclude that fish oil supplementation is highly effective in alleviating symptoms of primary Raynaud's phenomenon, but has no effect in secondary Raynaud's phenomenon.
DiGiacomo, Ralph A., et al. Fish-oil dietary supplementation in patients with Raynaud's phenomenon: a double-blind, controlled, prospective study. American Journal of Medicine, Vol. 86, February 1989, pp. 158-64