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Taking vitamin D and omega-3 supplements may help prevent autoimmune diseases

vitamin D and omega-3 supplements
New research reveals that vitamin D and omega-3 supplementation may help prevent autoimmune diseases.
  • In the previous study, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and autoimmune disease were linked.
  • There hasn’t been a large-scale, randomized, controlled investigation to evaluate the probable connections.
  • According to the latest study, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, or both lessen the risk of autoimmune illness.

Vitamin D consumption has been linked to a lower risk of autoimmune illnesses, according to previous study. The same goes for marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids.

Researchers presented the findings of the first big, national, randomized controlled study assessing the usefulness of daily vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acid, or combined supplements in avoiding inflammatory illness at the American College of Rheumatology’s ACR Convergence 2021.

When compared to not taking them, taking vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements over 5 years reduced the prevalence of autoimmune disease in elderly people by 25–30%.


Preliminary clues

Dr. Karen Costenbader, senior author of the study and director of the Lupus Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, gave a recap of the previous investigations that led to the new trials to the conference attendees.

The human body creates vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, which helps to maintain healthy teeth and bones. The body may not produce enough vitamin D naturally if there is less sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency has been related to a variety of diseases in studies.

“Inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and type 2 diabetes have been demonstrated to be more prevalent at northern latitudes, where circulation vitamin D levels are lower,” Dr. Costenbader remarked to the conference audience.

Conversely, she added, “Both high plasma 25-OH vitamin D and high residential UV exposure were associated with a decreased risk for rheumatoid arthritis [RA] among women in the Nurses’ Health Study in our past work.”

“In previous observational studies, increasing fatty fish intake was associated with lower RA risk,” Dr. Costenbader added.

“Higher [omega-3 (n-3)] fatty acid-to-total lipid proportion in [red blood cell] membranes was associated with a lower prevalence of anti-CCP and rheumatoid factor antibodies, as well as decreased progression to inflammatory arthritis among healthy volunteers,” according to Dr. Costenbader.


For the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL), Dr. Costenbader and her colleagues enrolled 25,871 adults.

The men that took part were all at least 50 years old. The women, who made up 51% of the cohort, were all 55 years old or older. The participants were on average 67 years old.

The participants were placed into four groups, each of which got a daily allotment of one of the following for 5.3 years:

  • an omega-3 placebo and a vitamin D placebo
  • 1 milligram (mg) of an omega-3 fatty acid supplement and 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D
  • an omega-3 placebo and 2,000 IU of vitamin D
  • 1 mg of an omega-3 fatty acid supplement and a vitamin D placebo

Treatment continued until December 2017 in the experiment, which lasted from November 2011 until March 2014. As autoimmune concerns emerged, the individuals reported them to their doctors.

A reduction in risk

The researchers looked at how vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids affected autoimmune illness in general and specific autoimmune disorders.

In the end, persons who took vitamin D supplements, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, or both were found to have a 25–30% lower risk of autoimmune illness than those who took simply placebos.

“After two years of administration, the effect of vitamin D3 appeared to be stronger,” the researchers wrote.

“The reduced incidence of RA and polymyalgia rheumatica are very important for rheumatology,” says Dr. Costenbader. “The more pronounced effect after 2–3 years of use with vitamin D makes sense biologically and supports long-term use.”

Prof. JoAnn Manson, a co-author, summarized the significance of the study for Medical News Today:

“Both vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acids have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, our finding that vitamin D supplements, either alone or in combination with the marine omega-3s, reduce the risk of developing autoimmune disorders is biologically plausible and warrants further study. The findings are exciting because no other preventive therapies are available to reduce the risk of developing these serious health conditions.”