Fish Oil Helps People with Lupus
Supplementing with fish oil may decrease the symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), according to a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology (2004;31:1551–6).
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and organs in the body. People with lupus may experience a rash on the face, mouth ulcers, hair loss, arthritis, chest pain, high blood pressure, kidney problems, and neurological problems such as seizures. Involvement of the kidneys, lungs, and blood vessels can cause life-threatening complications. Lupus symptoms tend to come and go, causing flare-ups and remissions. Young women between the ages of 15 and 40 years are the most commonly affected. People who have a close relative with lupus are more likely to develop the disease. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are two to three times more likely than Caucasians to develop lupus.
There is no known cure for lupus, but the symptoms may be managed by various medications. Corticosteroids, drugs that suppress the immune system, and drugs used to treat malaria are commonly prescribed. These medications may decrease inflammation, treat complications related to lupus, and prevent flare-ups of the disease; however, most of the drugs used to treat lupus are associated with serious side effects. Corticosteroids such as prednisone can cause high blood pressure, thinning of the bones, and increased risk of infection. Drugs used to suppress the immune system like cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan™) can cause swelling of the feet and legs, hair loss, and extreme fatigue. Antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil™) may cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Fish oil is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. People with lupus tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. Copper has also been studied for the treatment of certain types of inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The current study examined the effect of fish oil and copper supplementation on disease activity in 52 people with lupus. The participants were assigned to receive either (1) 3 grams of fish oil (containing 540 mg of EPA and 360 mg of DHA) and 3 mg of copper per day, (2) 3 grams of fish oil per day, (3) 3 mg of copper per day, or (4) placebo for 24 weeks. Disease activity was assessed using the Systemic Lupus Activity Measure, and indicators of inflammation in the body were measured at the beginning of the study and again after 6, 12, and 24 weeks.
Copper supplementation did not affect lupus disease activity but the participants taking fish oil had significantly less disease activity than those people not taking it. Fish oil appeared to have the greatest effect on the neurological and skin problems associated with lupus. Neither fish oil nor copper affected measures of inflammation in the body. No side effects were reported in any of the treatment groups.
Eating two meals per week of an oily fish such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel can provide the amount of fish oil used in this study. Larger amounts have been found to benefit a variety of other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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