N-3 fatty acids for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases

Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Aug;61(3):391-5. doi: 10.1079/pns2002171.


The aim of the present paper is to briefly review the literature relating to clinical studies of the use of polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The reasons for the discrepancies in the findings could be related to the different study designs, different treatments, overlapping of treatment effects, as well as the variety of treatment formulations and doses used, which have led to results that are, in certain instances, very difficult to explain. Emphasis on a treatment formulation which reduces the incidence of side effects, together with careful selection of patients and experimental design, seems to be associated with benefits, and these studies point to the therapeutic potential for these lipids in the therapy of IBD. It is possible that these fatty acids act by reducing low-grade active inflammation rather than by preventing reinitiation of the inflammatory process from a truly quiescent state. Whether this treatment is applicable to all IBD patients has not been fully elucidated. Nevertheless, taken together, all these studies suggest the effectiveness of these new therapeutic approaches, not only when conventional treatment fails or when it is not possible to treat chronically, but also, in some instances, as first choice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colitis, Ulcerative / diet therapy
  • Crohn Disease / diet therapy
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / therapeutic use*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Fish Oils / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / prevention & control
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / diet therapy*
  • Patient Selection
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fish Oils