Autoimmune diseases affect as many as 50 million Americans and that number continues to rise. While there are few effective treatments, dietary supplements, such as vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, may help reduce the prevalence of these diseases, a new study suggests.
Multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, scleroderma, psoriasis and type 1 diabetes are just some of the 80 known autoimmune diseases (ADs). As people get older, these diseases are leading causes of sickness and death.
Information was collected from the VITAL study, an ongoing nationwide study of nearly 26,000 men and women over the age of 50. VITAL is investigating the use of daily supplements of vitamin D3 or omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease and stroke in people with no prior history of any of these illnesses.
Taking a vitamin D supplement, with or without omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, reduced the rate of autoimmune disease by 22 percent over five years.
The people in the study also completed questionnaires that asked about new diagnoses of autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, autoimmune thyroid disease, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease or any other new onset ADs.
Taking a vitamin D supplement, with or without omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, reduced the rate of autoimmune disease by 22 percent over five years. Omega-3 supplementation, with or without vitamin D, reduced AD by 15 percent, but was not considered statistically significant.
Taking omega-3 fatty acids alone did not have a significant effect on lowering the incidence of AD, but there was evidence that the effects increased after longer use of the supplement.
Because there are no other effective treatments for reducing the rate of AD and because vitamin D and omega-3 supplements are non-toxic and well tolerated supplements, this study is important for those at risk for autoimmune diseases.
The study is published in the BMJ.