The recently held 2017 ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting held in San Diego presented some new and exciting research findings regarding omega-3 fatty acids and their possible benefits for persons suffering from lupus.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease in which an unknown trigger causes the body’s immune system to attack its own healthy tissues. The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) .
This multiple symptom disease can cause inflammation, pain and damage to various parts of the body including skin and joints, and in worst cases to organs such as the kidneys, lungs, heart and the brain. Fatigue, weight loss and fever are common symptoms among lupus patients. Symptoms typically appear periodically as active phases of the disease are followed by times when the disease appears to be in remission. With symptoms that come and go, disease flares and remissions, and the uncertainty of what each day will bring the lupus patients may also be more prone to sleep disturbances and clinical depression.
The cause of lupus is unknown. It is known that multiple factors are required, including genetics, environmental exposure and organ specific characteristics. The disease occurs about ten times more often in women than in men. It is also more common among some ethnic groups, mainly blacks and Asians, and tends to be worse in these groups.
A population-based, cross-sectional study by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor examined the association between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and patient-reported outcomes in lupus patients.
The researchers collected data on dietary intake of omega fatty acids at baseline using a dietary questionnaire, while patient-reported outcome data included questionnaires on disease activity, quality of life, sleep disturbances, depression and a fibromyalgia scale.
According to the results, higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with better sleep quality and a decrease in depressive symptoms, while the presence of comorbid fibromyalgia, was lower among those with higher intake of omega-3’s. In addition, the study found that increasing omega-6 to omega-3 ratios in the diet were associated with increased disease activity.
The researchers state, that while many small studies have found that omega-3 supplementation was associated with an decline in SLE disease activity, this was the first study to examine omega-3 intake through diet or its impact on patient-reported outcomes in SLE patients particular..
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are seen as two of the most essential omega-3 fatty acids. While Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be considered a precursor for both of these, the body’s EPA and DHA synthesis seems to be rather insufficient . Therefore, taking care of dietary intake of not only ALA, but also EPA and DHA should probably be recommended. Red fleshed fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardine are an excellent source for DHA and EPA. If you are allergic to fish or following a vegan diet, therefore unable to consume fish as a part of your diet, there are also new DHA and EPA supplements that are from an alga origin.
It should be kept in mind that the particular study among lupus patients was only a cross-sectional study and performed by using only self-reported measures. While an association was found, longitudinal cohort studies are needed to show if causalities between intake of omega-3’s or omega-6’s and disease activity or other disease related symptoms truly exist.
Low intakes and low serum levels of EPA and DHA fatty acids have been associated with clinical depression by many other studies as well. In some studies, increasing their intake is shown to have positive effects when treating depression, while other studies show no effect.
The ratio of omega-3 to omega -6 dosages and its effect on inflammation has also been subject to debate for some time. It has been proposed that high intakes of omega-6 fatty acids could lead to increased systemic inflammation. As omega-6 fatty acids are shown to mediate inflammatory processes on a cellular level, they have been theoretically assumed to have proinflammatory effects when consumed in high amounts. However, systematic reviews have not been able to provide evidence that would support this hypothesis.
While we are waiting for more evidence to emerge on the actual causality between increased omega-3 fatty acid intake and decrease in depressive symptoms on SLE, or any other patients, the overall health benefits of omega-3’s, especially when consumed from dietary sources, not supplements, are widely accepted.
Take care that you or your clients are consuming those omega-3 rich foods as part of your diet. Usually a double benefit is gained, as foods, that are less healthy or even harmful to health, are substituted with the omega-3 containing foods.