Fish oil and rheumatoid arthritis: past, present and future.

Rheumatology Unit, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.
Proceedings of The Nutrition Society (Impact Factor: 4.94). 08/2010; 69(3):316-23. DOI: 10.1017/S0029665110001564
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Meta- and mega-analysis of randomised controlled trials indicate reduction in tender joint counts and decreased use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with fish-oil supplementation in long-standing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Since non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs confer cardiovascular risk and there is increased cardiovascular mortality in RA, an additional benefit of fish oil in RA may be reduced cardiovascular risk via direct mechanisms and decreased non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug use. Potential mechanisms for anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil include inhibition of inflammatory mediators (eicosanoids and cytokines), and provision of substrates for synthesis of lipid suppressors of inflammation (resolvins). Future studies need progress in clinical trial design and need to shift from long-standing disease to examination of recent-onset RA. We are addressing these issues in a current randomised controlled trial of fish oil in recent-onset RA, where the aim is to intervene before joint damage has occurred. Unlike previous studies, the trial occurs on a background of drug regimens determined by an algorithm that is responsive to disease activity and drug intolerance. This allows drug use to be an outcome measure whereas in previous trial designs, clinical need to alter drug use was a 'problem'. Despite evidence for efficacy and plausible biological mechanisms, the limited clinical use of fish oil indicates there are barriers to its use. These probably include the pharmaceutical dominance of RA therapies and the perception that fish oil has relatively modest effects. However, when collateral benefits of fish oil are included within efficacy, the argument for its adjunctive use in RA is strong.

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    ABSTRACT: Randomised controlled trials (RCT) examining the effects of fish oil supplementation on cardiac outcomes have yielded varying results over time. Although RCT are placed at the top of the evidence hierarchy, this methodology arose in the framework of pharmaceutical development. RCT with pharmaceuticals differ in important ways from RCT involving fish oil interventions. In particular, in pharmaceutical RCT, the test agent is present only in the intervention group and not in the control group, whereas in fish oil RCT, n-3 fats are present in the diet and in the tissues of both groups. Also, early phase studies with pharmaceuticals determine pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics to design the dose of the RCT intervention so that it is in a predicted linear dose-response range. None of this happens in fish oil RCT, and there is evidence that both baseline n-3 intake and tissue levels may be sufficiently high in the dose-response range that it is not possible to demonstrate a clinical effect with a RCT. When these issues are considered, it is possible that the changing pattern of fish consumption and fish oil use over time, especially in cardiac patients, can explain the disparity where benefit was observed in the early fish oil trials but not in the more recent trials.
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