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Vitamin D and Omega-3 Supplements Reduce Autoimmune Disease Risk

Neil Osterweil - MedScape

For those of us who cannot sit in the sun and fish all day, the next best thing for preventing autoimmune diseases may be supplementation with vitamin D and fish oil derived omega-3 fatty acids, results of a large prospective randomized trial suggest.

Dr Karen Costenbader

Among nearly 26,000 adults enrolled in a randomized trial designed primarily to study the effects of vitamin D and omega-3 supplementation on incident cancer and cardiovascular disease, 5 years of vitamin D supplementation was associated with a 22% reduction in risk for confirmed autoimmune diseases, and 5 years of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was associated with an 18% reduction in confirmed and probable incident autoimmune diseases, reported Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH, of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

"The clinical importance of these results is very high, given that these are nontoxic, well-tolerated supplements, and that there are no other known effective therapies to reduce the incidence of autoimmune diseases," she said during the virtual annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR 2021).

"People do have to take the supplements a long time to start to see the reduction in risk, especially for vitamin D, but they make biological sense, and autoimmune diseases develop slowly over time, so taking it today isn't going to reduce risk of developing something tomorrow," Costenbader said in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

"These supplements have other health benefits. Obviously, fish oil is anti-inflammatory, and vitamin D is good for osteoporosis prevention, especially in our patients who take glucocorticoids. People who are otherwise healthy and have a family history of autoimmune disease might also consider starting to take these supplements," she said.

After watching her presentation, session co-moderator Gregg Silverman, MD, from the NYU Langone School of Medicine in New York City, who was not involved in the study, commented "I'm going to [nutrition store] GNC to get some vitamins."

When asked for comment, the other session moderator, Tracy Frech, MD, of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, said, "I think Dr Costenbader's work is very important and her presentation excellent. My current practice is replacement of vitamin D in all autoimmune disease patients with low levels and per bone health guidelines. Additionally, I discuss omega-3 supplementation with Sjögren's [syndrome] patients as a consideration."

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