Fish oil and vitamin E reduce levels of pro-inflammatory proteins in rheumatoid arthritis, UB study shows

October 30, 2000

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While scientists ponder potential new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis at the American College of Rheumatology meeting in Philadelphia, they should not overlook potential nutritional approaches.

A study lead by Jaya Venkatraman, Ph.D., UB associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, has shown that in a mouse model, a combination of fish oil and vitamin E reduced the levels of inflammation-inducing cytokines, proteins that cause the joint swelling, pain and tenderness characteristic of this disease.

That study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, was named best scientific paper of the year this October by the American College of Nutrition.

Venkatraman said results using the mouse model show that fish oil and vitamin E are promising potential therapies for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

"This mouse model for arthritis displays symptoms very similar to what happens in humans," she said. "The combination of fish oil, with its omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E appears to help restore the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.

"It probably can't prevent development of rheumatoid arthritis, but it may delay symptoms and allow a reduction in other medication. People who normally had to take 10 aspirins a day, for example, may be able to take five. This therapy also seems to improve function."

In this study, Venkatraman used mice that over-express the lpr gene that causes fast aging, immuonological abnormalities and induces development of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. These diseases are characterized by cartilage destruction, known to be caused in part by an abnormal production of pro-inflammatory proteins that act as though cartilage has been invaded by foreign proteins and fight to destroy them.

Clinical trials in humans and laboratory research with animals have shown that dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil provides significant benefits, but the mechanism behind this action isn't well known, Venkatraman said.

By feeding some of these genetically altered mice a diet that included fish oil plus vitamin E and giving others a regular diet, Venkatraman was able to compare concentrations of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in the blood serum of both groups.

Her analysis showed that the genetically altered mice had higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in their serum, and that mice fed fish oil and vitamin E had significantly lower levels of these inflammation-inducing proteins.

"It is clear from our observations that fish oil and vitamin E are beneficial in modulating levels of specific cytokines and thereby may affect the immune system and the onset of autoimmunity," she said.

"These observations may form the basis for future studies on selective nutritional interventions based on specific fatty acids and antioxidants in delaying the progress of autoimmune diseases, particularly in rheumatoid arthritis patients."

Also participating in this research was Wei-chia Chu, a graduate student and recipient of a Mark Diamond research grant for graduate research. The study was funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disorders (NIAMS).
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University at Buffalo

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