Autoimmune diseases are a category of conditions where an individual’s immune system acts abnormally, often attacking and destroying healthy tissues by mistake. Many triggers can cause an individual’s body to start making components referred to as antibodies. Usually, antibodies help the body fight off infections. However, in patients with an autoimmune disease, they attack the body’s healthy tissues instead. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or thyroid disease to name a few (possibly 80 of them) and usually affect women more than men. Symptoms vary, but can include pain, fatigue, skin problems, and other chronic conditions. A new study suggests that vitamin D and fish oil supplements may offer over 50 protection.
The study called the VITAL study was published Jan 26, 2022 in the BMJ and was a randomized controlled trial that included 25,871 racially diverse people over the age of 50 who were split into two groups. One group took 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 each day; those in another group took 1000 mg of fish oil and a third group took both. Another group took two placebos. The study was blinded – i.e. no one knew which group they were in.
“During a five-year follow-up, participants reported any diagnoses of any autoimmune disease that were verified with medical records.
Compared with a placebo, vitamin D supplementation was associated with a 22% reduced risk of autoimmune disease overall. The improvement was greater (39%) after the first two years of treatment. Fish oil alone showed less robust results, but still showed fewer participants with confirmed autoimmune diagnoses compared with placebo.”
Both vitamin D and fish oil may have some effects due to the ability of each to regulate or tame the inflammatory response that “drive autoimmune disorders.” It is too soon based on one study to make recommendations that people take either vitamin D or fish oil supplements – but those with a strong family history should consult with their primary health care provider about these decisions. The vitamin D dose used in the study is more than twice the recommended daily intake of 600 IU or 800 IU for people 71 and older. The consequences of overdoses or toxicity can occur at 10,000 IU daily.
Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Volume 29, Number 10 June 2022.