A study performed by researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has found an association between supplementation of vitamin D, and fish oils, and lower rates of developing autoimmune disease. Medical News Today reports:
Autoimmune disorders are chronic conditions in which the body mounts a spontaneous inflammatory immune response even though there is no infection present.
Examples of autoimmune conditions include:
- autoimmune thyroid disease
- type 1 diabetes
- inflammatory bowel disease
- multiple sclerosis
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Autoimmune conditions are the third most common category of disease in the industrialized world, and the leading cause of mortality among females.
As there is currently no cure, and a person can only manage the symptoms, these conditions come with major societal implications. Some studies show that in the United States, Native Americans and Black populations are at a disproportionately higher risk of autoimmune conditions than white individuals.
Moreover, people with autoimmune disease often miss extended periods of employment. In addition to having their productivity affected, they face thousands of dollars in medical expenses they can no longer afford.
Some studies have found that vitamin D and omega-3 fish oil may be able to regulate genes involved in inflammation and innate immune responses.
Although animal trials have found that vitamin D inhibits the development or progression of disease, small trials of vitamin D supplementation in people with autoimmune conditions have produced negative results.
Meanwhile, a Danish study found that RA risk decreased by 49% for each 30-gram (g) increase in daily oily fish intake.
Clinical trials are necessary to determine whether vitamin D or omega-3 supplements really benefit people with autoimmune disease.
In a recent study, researchers from Boston in the United States investigated the link between vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements and the onset of autoimmune disease in a nationwide, placebo-controlled trial.
They found that vitamin D supplementation led to a 22% lower rate of developing autoimmune disease.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation led to a 15% lesser risk of autoimmune disease, although these results were not statistically significant.
“Autoimmune diseases are a group of over 80 different related diseases, and their prevalence and health impact increas[e] with age,“ Karen Harte Costenbader, M.D., professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and lead author of the study, told MNT. “This is the first direct evidence that we can do something to prevent them in older adults.”
“The clinical importance of these findings is high because these are well-tolerated, nontoxic supplements, and other effective treatments to reduce the incidence of autoimmune diseases are lacking,” the researchers write in their study.
“Additionally, we saw consistent results across autoimmune diseases and increasing effects with time. We are continuing to follow participants for 2 years in an extension study to test the time course of this autoimmune disease reduction effect. Further trials could test these interventions in younger populations and those with high autoimmune disease risk,” they add.
The study appears in the journal BMJ.