NOV 17, 2021 8:33 PM PST

Nutrients for Reducing Autoimmune Disease Risk

WRITTEN BY: Alexandria Bass

Want to reduce your chances of having your immune system turn on your body and start destroying your perfect health? Dr. Karen Costenbader, MD, MPH, of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston suggests you look to vitamin D and fish oil-derived omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Results presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology come from an ancillary study. Data were analyzed from a large prospective randomized trial that included 26,000 adults who were originally enrolled in the trial to examine the effects of these two supplements on cancer and cardiovascular disease. Participants were men aged 50 and older and women aged 55 and older. They were randomly assigned to taking 2000 IU of vitamin D a day or a placebo and then further randomized to taking either 1 g/day of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo in the vitamin D and placebo groups. Autoimmune diseases were self-reported at baseline and annually, with reports confirmed by medical record review.

Five years later, in the vitamin D group, 123 participants taking vitamin D compared to 155 taking a placebo had confirmed autoimmune disease. In the omega-3 group, 130 participants taking the supplement compared with 148 in the placebo group developed autoimmune disease. In percentages, 5 years of vitamin D supplementation was associated with a 22% reduction in autoimmune disease risk and 5 years of omega-3 fatty acids with an 18% reduction.

This study's results are supported by previous observational studies that showed a lower risk of Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis from increased vitamin D from UV light exposure and a lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis from a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Dr. Costenbader emphasizes that supplements work over time to reduce autoimmune disease risk, so they need to be taken over a period of years.

Vitamin D is also recommended for bone health, especially in those taking glucocorticoids, a common autoimmune disease treatment. Supplementing with vitamin D and omega-3s is especially important in those who have a family history of autoimmunity. Perhaps most important of all, these supplements are non-toxic, well-tolerated, and the only effective therapies shown to reduce the risk of developing autoimmune diseases, a group of diseases whose exact causes remain unknown.

Sources: Medscape, IBD, Rheumatology, The Journal of Rheumatology

About the Author
BA in Psychology
Alexandria (Alex) is a freelance science writer with a passion for educating the public on health issues. Her other professional experience includes working as a speech-language pathologist in health care, a research assistant in a food science laboratory, and an English teaching assistant in Spain. In her spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, lap swimming, jogging, and reading.
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