How omega-3 fatty acids might help Crohn's disease

Jan 17 2014 - 1:15pm
Omega-3 fatty acids: How they might help Crohn's disease

Finding ways to manage Crohn's disease is difficult. Interventions that work for some fail for others. Crohn's disease that is a form of inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is brought about by inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids are shown to quell inflammation, so why aren't they being widely recommended for the disease?

Why omega-3 fatty acids could help Crohn's disease

We asked biochemist Dr. Barry Sears of the Zone diet what role omega-3 fatty acids might play for helping treat Crohn's disease. In an e-mail interview and what are other ways to help reduce inflammation that could also help lower the side effect of some treatment for Crohn’s disease.

In a review of studies, omega-3 fatty acids failed to show consistent benefit for treating IBD. Because of same, there are no firm recommendations. One of the reasons, says Dr. Sears is that the dosing used in studies was too low.

Drugs used to treat Crohn’s disease address the problem after inflammation happens. According to Dr. Sears, “Anti-inflammatory treatments (drugs or biologicals) deal with stopping inflammation after its initiation. The initiation phase of inflammation is caused by the activation of NF-kB which is the gene transcription factor that turns on the synthesis of inflammatory mediators (such as TNF). A more appropriate course of action would be to go "upstream" to reduce activation of NF-kB thus reducing the levels of inflammatory proteins being released.”

What that can mean for anyone dealing with Crohn’s disease is that eating anti-inflammatory foods is especially important. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids could have an impact over time that might reduce the amount of medications needed to control the disease.

“This also means reducing the intake of omega-6 fatty acids as well as increasing the omega-3 fatty acids. In my opinion, the levels of omega-3 fatty acids used in previous clinical studies are too low to effectively reduce NF-kB activity,” Dr. Sears explains.

Measuring inflammation

What that could mean for anyone dealing with a chronic inflammatory disease, that underlies most all diseases is that keeping one’s AA/EPA ratio low could be beneficial for Crohn’s management, overall health and other diseases.

Measuring the AA/EPA ratio the ratio of Arachidonic Acid (AA) to Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) in the blood stream is easily done with a blood test. If the ratio is over 3, NF-kB activity is higher, Dr. Sears explains, based on suggestions from clinical studies.

Inflammation is implicated for promoting breast cancer, diabetes, depression and more.

How can you lower inflammation?


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You can take omega-3 fatty acids (with your doctor’s approval). Dr. Sears says the dosing should be 5 to 10 grams a day.

"Polyphenols can also be used as anti-inflammatory agents. One by reducing the levels of pathogenic microbes in the gut as well as acting as secondary inhibitions of NF-kB activity. Like omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols must also be used in therapeutic levels usually at the level of at least 1-2 grams of purified polyphenol extracts per day," Dr. Sears said.

He adds: “In summary, by following an anti-inflammatory diet like the Zone Diet coupled with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols can work at the molecular level to enhance the actions of currently used drugs suggesting that the levels of drugs can be significantly reduced since the molecular targets of both are the same." Other examples of anti-inflammatory diets include the Mediterranean diet and the anti-inflammatory diet recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil.

In an update interview, Dr. Sears shared the risk of bleeding from high dose fish oil or other omega-3 fatty acid supplements is low. We asked because patients are often recommended by clinicians to stop taking fish oil prior to surgery and other procedures or when new medications that thin the blood are added.


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the effect of such diets is minimal to say the least.Feel strongly that such stories give false hope to sufferers of this horrible disease and comes from those with no real knowledge of such a potent condition.To suggest a 'med' diet cobined with a bit of yoga can combat crohns is bullshit at best
It's a part of a total lifestyle approach that in no way excludes medications or conventional therapies. Everyone responds differently to different interventions. Some people do use meditation, yoga, relaxation and breathing to manage Crohn's disease and they are pleased with the results. Inflammatory foods could in no way help. It only makes sense. Some people eat lard saying it soothes their symptoms, which I do not understand at all. This is one approach that could be tried in addition to whatever other treatment is being used.
Actually, the Omega oils would very likely have a detrimental effect to those who've had Crohn's surgery because the lack of an ileocecal valve(where such resections might be made) create bile acid diarrhea in those consuming high fat foods. Perhaps though eating a very small quantity of salmon might suffice if one still wishes to benefit.