MS, believed to be the result of damage around nerve cells, can cause a variety of symptoms, including changes in sensation, visual problems, muscle weakness, depression, difficulties with coordination and speech, severe fatigue, cognitive impairment, problems with balance, overheating, and pain. In severe cases, the debilitating disease can lead to impaired mobility and disability.
Medical practitioners have often recommended eating fish at least twice per week because it contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which have eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), known to affect key blood proteins(matrix metalloproteinase-9; MMP-9), and are produced by the immune cells of individuals with MS.
The new study assessing the effects of omega-3 on MMP-9 in patients with MS suggests that the consumption of fish oil, containing omega-3 fatty acids, may have potential benefit in MS by decreasing MMP-9 levels.
The objective of the Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, study was to evaluate the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on ten MS patients. The MS participants received 9.6 grams of fish oil/day in an open-label study. An in vitro study, using immune cells from healthy subjects, was also conducted simultaneously to evaluate concentration effects of EPA and DHA on MMP-9 levels and activity.
The researchers found that there was a 58 percent reduction in MMP-9 levels secreted from immune cells of MS volunteers after three months of fish oil supplementation compared to baseline levels. At three months, both EPA and DHA levels were considerably increased in red blood cell membranes. The in vitro study showed a significant decrease in MMP-9 levels and activity for EPA and DHA.
Researchers said that Omega-3 fatty acids decrease both MMP-9 levels and activity and may act as immune-modulators that could benefit MS patients.
"These findings confirm previous research findings that suggest the intake of fish oil, containing Omega-3 fatty acids could provide a measure of relief for those with MS, a disease that is progressive, debilitating, and without a cure," Dr. L. Shinto, the lead researcher, said.
The study is entitled "The Immunomodulatory Effects of Fish Oil in Multiple Sclerosis," and will be presented at the 22nd annual meting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.