Vitamin D and fish oil reduce risk of autoimmune diseases

Daily intake of vitamin D — or a combination of vitamin D and fish oil (omega-3) — appears to be associated with a lower risk of developing autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

They are well tolerated, inexpensive and apparently have a strong health-preserving effect – according to a study in which Harvard University was involved, vitamin D and fish oil have proven to be effective preventive therapy for autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s natural defense system mistakenly attacks normal cells. These include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, polymyalgia rheumatica (pain and stiffness in the muscles around the shoulders, neck and hips) or thyroid disorders, which increase with age, especially in women.

Long-term study with 25,871 adult men and women

Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids are considered effective natural anti-inflammatory agents. That’s why it’s important to eat enough foods, both of which contain plenty of nutrients. Since there have not yet been any randomized studies that have looked at whether vitamin D or omega-3 in the form of dietary supplements protect against autoimmune diseases, the researchers recruited 25,871 adults (average age 67 years). In addition to information such as age, income, place of residence, previous illnesses, weight and diet, the blood levels of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids were also measured at the beginning. The study report on this was recently published in the specialist journal “The BMJ”.1

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Division into four groups

The participants were randomly divided into four groups: the first received 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day, the second received a placebo, the third received 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day, and the last received a placebo. In addition, the researchers asked the subjects to report any diagnosed auto mine disease over the next five years.

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Vitamin D group most protected against autoimmune diseases

At the end of the study, 123 cases of autoimmune disease occurred in the vitamin D group. In the matching placebo group, it was 155. That means a 22 percent lower rate. There were 130 confirmed cases diagnosed in the omega-3 group, compared to 148 in the placebo group (a 15 percent reduction). Similar results were found when only the last three years of the study were considered. The vitamin D group had 39 percent fewer confirmed cases than placebo, while the omega-3 fatty acid group had 10 percent fewer confirmed cases than placebo. All in all, according to the researchers, this reduces the risk by an average of 30 percent.

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First evidence that dietary supplements can protect against autoimmune diseases

A disadvantage of the study is that only either vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids were used. The researchers involved conceded in a media release that a combination of the two could possibly achieve even better effects.2 Also, one does not know how it behaves with younger people. “Nevertheless, this is the first direct evidence that daily dietary supplementation with vitamin D and omega-3 in older US adults reduces the incidence of autoimmune diseases.” Incidentally, the protective effect is said to be noticeable after just two years of intake. For all open questions, further studies are now pending, according to the researchers.


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