MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

For this blog, I am constantly on the lookout for ‘positive news’ about alternative medicine. Admittedly, I rarely find any.

All the more delighted I was when I found this new study aimed to analyse the association between dietary long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and incidence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in middle-aged and older women.

Data on diet were collected in 1987 and 1997 via a self-administered food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ). The risk of RA associated with dietary long-chain n-3 PUFAs and fish intake was estimated using Cox proportional hazard regression models, adjusted for age, cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, use of aspirin and energy intake.

The results show that, among 32 232 women born 1914–1948, 205 RA cases were identified during a mean follow-up of 7.5 years. An intake of dietary long-chain n-3 PUFAs (FFQ1997) of more than 0.21 g/day (lowest quintile) was associated with a 35% decreased risk of developing RA compared with a lower intake. Long-term intake consistently higher than 0.21 g/day (according to both FFQ1987 and FFQ1997) was associated with a 52% decreased risk. Consistent long-term consumption (FFQ1987 and FFQ1997) of fish ≥1 serving per week compared with<1 was associated with a 29% decrease in risk.

The authors concluded that this prospective study of women supports the hypothesis that dietary intake of long-chain n-3 PUFAs may play a role in aetiology of RA.

These are interesting findings which originate from a good investigation and which are interpreted with the necessary caution. As all epidemiological data, this study is open to a number of confounding factors, and it is therefore impossible to make firm causal inferences. The results thus do not led themselves to clinical recommendation, but they are an indication that more definitive research is warranted, all the more so since we have plausible mechanisms to explain the observed findings.

A most encouraging development for alternative medicine, one could conclude. But is this really true? Most experts would be surprised, I think, to find that PUFA-consumption should fall under the umbrella of alternative medicine. Remember: What do we call alternative medicine that works? It is called MEDICINE!

3 Responses to Fish oil might reduce the risk of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis

  • The ‘fish oil debate’ has been going on for years, but there’s one question to which I’ve never been able to find an answer: how is eating oily fish different to taking fish oil capsules? Pardon my probably simplistic, non-scientist view, but if it’s the oil that (maybe) makes a difference, you don’t need to eat the rest of the fish.

  • http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/02/AR2006110200913.html

    so typical that when humans do finally find that their unethical exploitation of others saves them from a bit of discomfort, it’s too late.

  • It’s unfortunate that the full details of this study are not easily accessible. Although the conclusion of the authors is in alignment with independent scientific findings, I’m wondering how this study managed to adequately establish the intake of short-chain versus long-chain n-3s and the n-3:n-6 ratios relevant to rheumatoid arthritis.

    The reason I mention this is because it seems that (at least some) n-6 fatty acids are a contributor to developing rheumatoid arthritis, which can be offset by consuming long-chain n-3s (EPA and DHA) in a ratio of at least 3:1 compared to n-6 intake.

    Note: Women are more efficient than men at converting the much more prevalent short-chain n-3, ALA, to long-chain EPA and DHA therefore any study that focuses on women needs to fully justify why it has set this focus.

    @Joyce Beck: A properly qualified dietician ought to be able to give you personalised dietary advice and inform you as to which suppliers prepare capsules to very high standards.

    @Rita: I’m not sure what your point was, but staying on topic, the correct term for dietary ‘fish oil’ is “marine oil”, which includes krill oil and calamari oil. Calamari oil is considered to be more environmentally friendly than fish or krill oil.

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