Swedes find that high doses of fish omega-3s alleviate symptoms in ankylosing spondylitis
by Craig Weatherby
There's ample evidence that omega-3s can alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: an inflammatory autoimmune disease that mostly affects middle-aged women.
For more on the benefits of omega-3s for autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions, see “Fighting Internal Fires with Fish Fats” and the Omega-3s & Joint Health and Omega-3s & Immunity sections of our news archive.
Ankylosing spondylitis (ank-kih-low-sing spon-dill-eye-tiss) or AS is an autoimmune, rheumatic-type disease that affects some 400,000 adult Americans: about as many as have rheumatoid arthritis.
The vast majority (90-95 percent) of AS patients have a genetic marker (HLA-B27) that's far less common in the general population.
Unlike most autoimmune rheumatic diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma) three-quarters of AS patients are men.
AS is characterized by inflammation of the spinal joints (vertebrae) that can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort.
The symptoms of AS—for which there is no known cure—often appear by age 30, and can include the following:
- Dull or tender pain in the lower back and hip joints (sacroiliac), rib joints, neck back or shoulders.
- Low-grade inflammation.
- General fatigue, fever, and stiffness.
- Pain where tendons attach to bone (ankles, buttocks, knees and shoulders).
- Eye inflammation.
In the most advanced cases, inflammation can prompt new bone formation that forces the spine to fuse in a fixed posture.
Swedish pilot trial finds high-dose fish oil helpful
Researchers at Sweden's Gallivare Hospital, led by Dr. Bjorn Sundstrom, recruited 18 AS patients from polar and sub-
polar regions of Sweden where AS and its genetic marker are unusually common.
Interestingly, Inuits (AKA Eskimos; see “Native names” sidebar) who have the genetic marker for high risk of developing AS—and who, unlike white residents of North Sweden, consume lots of omega-3s from fish and marine mammals—rarely develop the disease.
The Swedes divided the participants into two groups of nine patients each, with one group taking lower daily doses of omega-3s (1.95 grams EPA + DHA) and the other taking fairly high doses (4.55 grams EPA + DHA). The study lasted for 21 weeks.
As Dr. Sundstrom and his colleagues reported, “The patients in the high-dose group exhibited a significant decrease in disease activity according to the Bath Ankylosing Disease Activity Index, which was not seen in the low-dose group… Omega-3 fatty acids in adequate doses may have the capacity to decrease the disease activity of AS.”
By themselves, the findings from this pilot study are of limited reliability, given the very small number of subjects and the lack of a placebo.
However, they fit with the positive results of many clinical trials in similar inflammatory autoimmune diseases, and should prompt researchers to conduct larger, better-controlled trials.
- Sundstrom B, Stalnacke K, Hagfors L, Johansson G. Supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids in patients with ankylosing spondylitis. Scand J Rheumatol. 2006 Sep-Oct;35(5):359-62.
- Kaplan L; Alaska Native Language Center. Inuit or Eskimo: Which names to use? Accessed online February 10, 2007 at http://www.uaf.edu/anlc/inuitoreskimo.html.