BOSTON — Taking vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acid supplements could reduce your chance of developing autoimmune diseases, suggests a new study from Brigham And Women’s Hospital. Vitamin D and omega-3s are associated with reducing inflammation, a precursor for autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies the body’s cells and tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. These diseases are more common in older adults and have a wide range of symptom severity.
“It is exciting to have these new and positive results for non-toxic vitamins and supplements preventing potentially highly morbid diseases,” says study senior author Dr. Karen Costenbader, of the Brigham’s Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation and Immunity, in a statement.
“Now, when my patients, colleagues, or friends ask me which vitamins or supplements I’d recommend they take to reduce risk of autoimmune disease, I have new evidence-based recommendations for women age 55 years and older and men 50 years and older,” says Costenbader. “I suggest vitamin D 2000 IU a day and marine omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), 1000 mg a day — the doses used in VITAL.”
Researchers studied the impact of vitamin D and/or omega fatty acid supplements on autoimmune diseases over a 5-year period as part of the vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL). The VITAL trial studied the health of 25,871 men 50 years and older and women 55 years and older after taking daily dietary supplements of either vitamin D3 or omega-3 fatty acids. Some patients were randomly assigned a placebo.
Trial participants answered questions on any new medical diagnoses, including rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, autoimmune thyroid disease, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, as well as any other autoimmune diseases.
Patients who took Vitamin D had fewer diagnoses of autoimmune diseases than people who took a placebo. Vitamin D was associated with a 22% decreased risk for autoimmune diseases.
People taking omega fatty acid supplements had 130 autoimmune diagnoses compared to the 148 in the placebo group. While omega-3 fatty acids did not statistically reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers did find evidence of an increased effect when taking the supplement for longer.
“Autoimmune diseases are common in older adults and negatively affect health and life expectancy. Until now, we have had no proven way of preventing them, and now, for the first time, we do,” says first author, Jill Hahn, a post-doctoral fellow at the Brigham. “It would be exciting if we could go on to verify the same preventive effects in younger individuals.”
The research study is published in the journal BMJ.