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Copyright 2013 Natural Standard (
April 2012

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Not Benefit MS Patients

Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements may not benefit people who have relapsing multiple sclerosis, according to a recent study.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic (long-term), progressive, degenerative disorder that affects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. MS is widely believed to be an autoimmune disease, a condition in which the immune system attacks components of the body as if they are foreign.

MS affects two to three times as many women as men. Most individuals experience their first signs or symptoms between ages 20 and 40. Children of parents with MS have a higher rate of incidence 30-50 percent. Heredity does play a role in the development of MS.

In the current study, researchers set out to determine whether omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may help reduce disease activity in MS patients.

The team collected information on people between 18-55 years of age who had relapsing-remitting MS at 13 neurology departments in Norway. The patients randomly received omega-3 fatty acid supplements or a placebo daily for six months.

The researchers did not observe differences in fatigue, quality of life or disease activity. Additionally, there were no differences between the omega-3 group or the placebo group in the number of relapses during six months of treatment.

The scientists concluded that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may not reduce disease activity in people who have relapsing-remitting MS. However, more studies are needed to better understand these findings.

Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant and nut oils. Fish oil contains both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while some nuts (such as English walnuts) and vegetable oils (such as canola, soybean, flaxseed, linseed and olive oils) contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

There is supportive evidence from multiple studies that suggests the intake of recommended amounts of DHA and EPA in the form of dietary fish or fish oil supplements lowers triglycerides; reduces the risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease; slows the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques ("hardening of the arteries") and lowers blood pressure slightly. However, high doses may have harmful effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding. Although similar benefits have been proposed for alpha-linolenic acid, the scientific evidence is less compelling and the beneficial effects may be less pronounced.

For more information about omega-3 fatty acids, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
  2. Torkildsen O, Wergeland S, Bakke S, et al. ω-3 Fatty Acid Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis (OFAMS Study): A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Arch Neurol. 2012 Apr 16. View Abstract
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