Fish Oil in Health and Disease

EPSOM, UNITED KINGDOM. Dr. Gail Darlington of the Epsom General Hospital and Dr. Trevor Stone of the University of Glasgow have just released a major paper reviewing the current state of the art in regards to diet and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). About 2% of the world’s population suffers from RA and the disease is three times more prevalent among women than among men. RA can strike at any age and involves an inflammation of joint tissues associated with the release of toxic substances in the synovium that leads to cartilage destruction. The main symptoms are swelling of the affected joints, morning stiffness, fatigue and general malaise. There is considerable evidence now that RA is caused by oxidative stress and involves an excessive production of pro-inflammatory compounds like tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1beta.

Research has shown that supplementation with fish oils (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) can markedly reduce interleukin-1betaproduction and results in a significant reduction in morning stiffness and the number of painful joints in RA patients. Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in cooking oils and margarine), on the other hand, have been found to exacerbate RA symptoms. Fish oils have also been found useful in the management of systemic lupus erythematosus.

Drs. Darlington and Stone point out that long-term supplementation with fish oils may affect immune function and caution against daily intakes of more than 750 mg of EPA.

Editor’s Note: Other studies have found intakes of 5 grams/day or more to be entirely safe for periods as long as seven years.

They also point out that fish oil supplements should contain at least 3 mg of vitamin E per gram of fish oil in order to avoid excessive peroxidation. [225 references]
Darlington, L. Gail and Stone, Trevor W. Antioxidants and fatty acids in the amelioration of rheumatoid arthritis and related disorders. British Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 85, March 2001, pp. 251-69

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