All autoimmune diseases, including lupus, are multifactorial, there is no single cause of these diseases. In lupus,your immune system attacks the normal body cells for no apparent reason, and very little is known about the triggers of the disease. Lupus is more common in females of child bearing age, this shows the female hormone as one of the risk factors, together with genetics and various environmental factors.
Among environmental factors, that affects almost every aspect of well-being is diet. A balanced diet rich in certain nutrients can surely prevent various ailments and lupus is no exception.
Though our body is huge and complex chemical factory, able to produce most of the compounds required by it, however, it is not always the case. There are things that it either cannot produce at all, or the process is highly inefficient, and thus these substances have to come from food, and omega-3 is one such fatty acid. These types of substances are often called essential. There are many natural sources of omega-3, like fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flaxseed oil and leafy vegetables(1). But, still there is a growing evidence that western diet is not rich enough in omega-3 fatty acid, and thus making our body prone to various ailments. Some scientific think tanks contemplate that humans have evolved on the diet that was traditionally rich in omega-3, thus modern diet is giving rise to the various inflammatory processes in our body (2).
Omega-3 fact sheet
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated lipids. There are three main kinds of omega-3s:
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), their main source is fish or fish oil, that is why sometimes they are also stated as marine omega-3s.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is the most common source of omega-3 in the western diet and is mainly found in vegetable oils, some kind of nuts, and animal fats. Our body has very limited ability to converts the ALA to DHA or EPA. That is the reason that diet poor in seafood is often deficient in DHA and EPA.
In the US, some consumption of some food products rich is omega-3 has been on rising, like soybean oil, and poultry products, but there has not been much rise in the use of fatty fish or in fact there has been a decline in its consumption(3).
Omega health benefits
Omega fatty acids are an indispensable part of cell walls, and they are precursors to many hormones. The deficit of omega-3 has been shown to be related to higher incidences of cardiovascular diseases, and lower mental performance. They have long been recommended for improving cardiovascular and mental health. Now the evidence is mounting in favor of their supplementation in various inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.
Omega-3 in autoimmune disorders and lupus
There are several clinical studies and trials demonstrating the benefits of omega-3 supplementation in the autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. They have been demonstrated to be highly beneficial in lupus erythematosus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis. Many of these studies revealed significant benefit, including a decrease in disease activity, flares, and lessened use of anti-inflammatory therapy(4,5).
In a study done by Clark et al. patients suffering from lupus were tested for the effects of omega-3 on inflammatory processes. They used the fish oil as a supplement. Patients were given 6 g fish oil for five weeks, followed by 18 g for another five weeks. In the study, it was found that fish oil has significant beneficial effects in the patients (6).
Yet, in another clinical trial role of omega-3 in modulating oxidant stress was studied, and found that EPA/DHA had excellent anti-oxidant properties, and thus can act as disease modifying agent in lupus (7).
There are numerous studies on humans and animals showing the beneficial effects of omega-3 in lupus. There seem to be various mechanisms involved in the favorable clinical effects. Though most of these studies used either fish oil or flaxseed oil for supplementing the omega-3, it is always better to take dietary measures and eat more of foods that are rich in omega-3. It is also important to understand that though omega-3 has many health benefits, still,there is no officially accepted daily dietary recommendation related to it (8).
Food that is rich in omega-3
Here is our recommended list of superfoods to boost your daily intake of omega-3, and no surprise that many of them come from marine life.
- Mackerel– This small fatty fish is the leader in the board, containing more than 2 g of omega-2 in mere 100 g of serving. Apart from being a rich source of vitamin B12 and selenium. Above all these fish does not require much preparation, and is a powerhouse of antioxidants.
- Salmon – Has been often described as the most nutrient dense food on the planet. It also provides more than 2 g of omega-3 in 100 g of serving, with added benefits of high-quality protein, vitamins of group B, minerals like magnesium and selenium.
- Cod liver oil – It is not a food but rather a supplement that is rich in omega-3 and various vitamins. Benefits of taking it are that there is no need of any preparation. Just single table spoon will provide more than 2 g of omega-3 with vitamin A and D.
- Sardines – are small oily fish, easily available. One serving of 100 g can provide about 1.4 g of omega along with vitamins and minerals.
- Flaxseeds – is the leader when it comes to the herbal source of omega-3, in fact, it can beat most animal sources in the density of omega-3 content. One tablespoon of seeds would provide in excess of 2 g of omega-3, while a tablespoon of oil would provide a whopping dose of more than 7 g omega-3. Not to mention other nutrients and vitamins.
- Walnuts – one ounce of walnuts would contain more than 2 g of omega-3. It is also a rich source of vitamin E, antioxidants, and various nutrients.
- Soybeans – their consumption has been on rising in many parts of the world, as they are an excellent source of vegetarian proteins. 100 g of soybeans contain about 1.4 g of omega-3.
- Chia Seeds – it is another wonder from the herbal world, these seeds are rich in essential amino acids, and 2 tablespoons of it would provide about 4 g of omega-3 and 4 g proteins.