About 2.5 million people worldwide suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic, incurable disease of the central nervous system. Some MS sufferers take or have tried omega-3 fatty acid supplements to control the disease, because the essential fatty acids are believed to have anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective effects in multiple sclerosis. A new trial described Online First in JAMA’s Archives of Neurology, shows that omega-3 fatty acid supplements were not linked to beneficial effects on disease activity in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

In a double blind, placebo-controlled trial Øivind Torkildsen, M.D., Ph.D., of Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, and his team decided to assess whether omega-3 fatty acid supplementation as a single therapy or in combination with subcutaneous, i.e. under the skin interferon beta-1a could reduce disease activity in 92 patients with MS.

The researchers administered 46 patients with omega-3 fatty acids, i.e. 1350 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid and 850 mg of docosahexaenoic acid daily, whilst the other 46 patients received placebo. At six months, all patients were administered with interferon beta-1 three-times weekly for another 18 months. To measure disease activity in terms of the number of new T1-weighted gadolinium-enhancing lesions in the brain, the researchers used MRI scans.

They declared:

“The results from this study did not show any beneficial effects of ω-3 [omega-3] fatty acid supplementation on disease activity in multiple sclerosis as a monotherapy or in combination with interferon beta.”

The results were contrary to two other studies that reported omega-3 fatty acids to have a potentially positive effect. They showed that the omega-3 fatty acids group had, on average, three new T1-weighted gadolinium-enhancing lesions during the first six months, compared with two in the placebo group, yet there were no differences between both groups with regard to the number of relapses during the first six months of treatment or after 24 months and neither group showed any differences either in fatigue or quality-of-life scores.

The researchers point out that their findings do not indicate that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was harmful and it did not appear to have any affects on interferon beta treatment, which can decrease disease activity in the relapsing-remitting course of the disease. They conclude:

“The design of this study allowed us to compare the effect of ω-3 fatty acid supplementation both against placebo alone and in combination with interferon beta. As expected, the MRI disease activity was significantly reduced when interferon beta-1a was introduced.”

Written By Petra Rattue