Objectives: To review background, pharmacological properties, mechanisms of action, and published clinical experience using omega-3 fatty acids in rheumatoid arthritis.
Materials and methods: English language publications were identified through a computerized search (using MEDLINE) between 1979 and 1995 using the terms "omega-3 fatty acids" and "fish oil". In addition, manual search and cross references were used to obtain published articles on the subject. Papers showing evidence of pharmacological properties and mechanisms of action were analyzed. For therapeutic efficacy, only randomized clinical trials are presented in this article. All papers were reviewed by a board certified rheumatologist with training in research methodology and critical appraisal skills. He was aware of study objectives.
Results: Main results are summarized in the text and presented in tables. Mean change from baseline is presented only for patients treated with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are superior with respect to placebo in improving some outcome measures, and decrease the long-term requirements for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Some of these effects are statistically significant, but their clinical significance remain to be established.
Conclusions: Treatment with omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with improvement in some outcome measures in rheumatoid arthritis. Studies are needed to determine if they might represent an alternative to nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs in certain circumstances.