Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Multiple Sclerosis Work?

Almost everyone has heard of omega-3 fatty acids and that we should be consuming more fish to improve our health, specifically our cardiovascular health. Because of mercury warnings and other issues with fish, many are turning to supplements. These supplements are also said to have some benefits for the brain, making is possible for omega-3 fatty acids for multiple sclerosis to be on the radar. Claims include that these supplements have the power to possibly lessen symptoms, and a few claims even state that these supplements may reverse MS disease progression. So, what is the truth about these supplements for multiple sclerosis.

Should MS Patients Care About Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Some studies have shown that people with multiple sclerosis have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This does not mean that MS is caused by low levels, but it does give some insight to how this supplement could possibly benefit this neurological disorder. A few small studies suggest that because of this multiple sclerosis symptoms may be helped to some degree by omega-3 fatty acids.

How do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Work and What are They?

These fatty acids are made up of two compounds: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These work to do a variety of things, such as reducing inflammatory reactions through decreasing certain immune reactions. To put it simply, the omega-6 fatty acids' pro-inflammatory effects are regulated by omega-3 fatty acids. Too many people, especially those in Canada, Europe, and the United States get too much omega-6 fatty acids in their diets so getting more omega-3 fatty acids is seen as beneficial in balancing these out.

How Effective are These Supplements?

There was no link found between developing multiple sclerosis and consuming omega-3 fatty acids from fish, in the Nurses' Health Study. However, a few other studies show possible effects. A very small study showed that this supplement helped to reduce the patients' relapse rate, as well as improved their expanded disability status scale scores.

Dosage

When taking a supplement, up to three grams each day is recommended. Those wanting to get more through their diet can eat foods, such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, tuna, sardines, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, avocados, certain nuts, and some of the dark, leafy greens. Those choosing fish must be careful due to mercury concentrations.

Side Effects and Warnings

When consuming over three grams each day, possible side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Elevated blood sugar in diabetic patients
  • Increased risk of bleeding complications
  • Increased LDL cholesterol levels

A study that lasted for seven years reported no serious adverse effects for patients who consumed less than three grams each day.

These supplements may also adversely interact with certain medications, such as:

  • Blood-thinning medications: omega-3 fatty acids may increase bleeding risk
  • High blood pressure and diabetes' medications may have to be administered at a lower dosage because this supplement naturally lowers blood sugar and blood pressure. Patients will also have to have their serum cholesterol levels monitored because this supplement may make LDL cholesterol levels worse. Those taking triglyceride-lowering drugs may need to take a lower dosage and those taking statins may need a higher dosage.

Resources

Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health. (2010). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health. Retrieved on December 9, 2010 from Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcidsandHealth/

ClinicalTrials.gov. (2006). Omega-3 Fatty Acid Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis. Retrieved on December 9, 2010 from ClinicalTrials.gov: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00360906

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