Department of Medicine, Albany Medical College, NY 12208.
Forty-nine patients with active rheumatoid arthritis completed a 24-week, prospective, double-blind, randomized study of dietary supplementation with 2 different dosages of fish oil and 1 dosage of olive oil. Clinical evaluations were performed at baseline and every 6 weeks thereafter, and immunologic variables were measured at baseline and after 24 weeks of study. The 3 groups of patients were matched for age, sex, disease severity, and use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Subjects continued receiving DMARDs and other background medications without change during the study. Twenty patients consumed daily dietary supplements of n3 fatty acids containing 27 mg/kg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 18 mg/kg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (low dose), 17 patients ingested 54 mg/kg EPA and 36 mg/kg DHA (high dose), and 12 patients ingested olive oil capsules containing 6.8 gm of oleic acid. Significant improvements from baseline in the number of tender joints were noted in the low-dose group at week 24 (P = 0.05) and in the high-dose group at week 18 (P = 0.04) and 24 (P = 0.02). Significant decreases from baseline in the number of swollen joints were noted in the low-dose group at weeks 12 (P = 0.003), 18 (P = 0.002), and 24 (P = 0.001) and in the high-dose group at weeks 12 (P = 0.0001), 18 (P = 0.008), and 24 (P = 0.02). A total of 5 of 45 clinical measures were significantly changed from baseline in the olive oil group, 8 of 45 in the low-dose fish oil group, and 21 of 45 in the high-dose fish oil group during the study (P = 0.0002). Neutrophil leukotriene B4 production decreased by 19% from baseline in the low-dose fish oil group (P = 0.0003) and 20% in the high-dose group (P = 0.03), while macrophage interleukin-1 production decreased by 38.5% in the olive oil group (P not significant), 40.6% in the low-dose group (P = 0.06), and 54.7% in the high-dose group (P = 0.0005). Tritiated thymidine incorporation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells after stimulation with concanavalin A increased significantly in all 3 groups after 24 weeks, compared with baseline values. We conclude that the clinical benefits of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids are more commonly observed in patients consuming higher dosages of fish oil for time intervals that are longer than those previously studied. Dietary supplementation with olive oil is also associated with certain changes in immune function, which require further investigation.