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The Use of Fatty Acid Supplements in MS


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Posted 30 July 2005 - 12:44 PM

The Use of Fatty Acid Supplements in Multiple Sclerosis

The beneficial oils used as supplements in this diet include the three main groups of essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Omega-6 Oils

The first group consists of the so-called omega-6 (or N6) fatty acids, contained in oils such as sunflower-seed or rape-seed oil. N6 oils also occur in greater proportion in, for example, evening primrose oil (EPO) or borage seed oil (BSO).

Borage-seed oil is otherwise known as starflower oil. All these oils will be available, under a variety of brand names, from different manufacturers.

Both EPO and BSO contain a high proportion of the two more important N6 oils: linoleic acid (LA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is effectively three times stronger than LA and is therefore of greater benefit.

The health benefits of evening primrose oil as a dietary supplement have been known for many years, but it is expensive and is readily available from chemists, health food stores or postal suppliers. It contains about 7-10% GLA.

Borage seed oil is somewhat more expensive than EPO but it contains up to two and half times more GLA (18.7%) than EPO and should therefore be that much more effective. Both EPO and BSO are available as easily swallowed capsules.

Omega-3 Oils

The second group of essential oils, comprise the omega-3 (or N3) fatty acids. These include the fish liver oils, from such as cod or halibut; the refined fish liver oil, 'Maxepa'; and linseed oil (flax-seed oil). The latter is commercially available as the dietary supplement, 'Linusit' or as capsules of linseed oil.

Cod liver oil is the least expensive of the N3 oils and a number of brands at varying prices are readily available. There appears to be no particular advantage in buying the more expensive brands. Some have a reduced level of vitamin A, a low level of which is important and recommended in conditions such as lupus or in the treatment of infertility.

Recent research has here prompted a change in the recommended ratio of the two different types of oil. For optimum physiological benefit, it is now considered that the dose of N3 oil (fish liver or flax-seed oil) should be approximately equal to the dose of the N6 oil (EPO or BSO).

This change has been prompted by research carried out by such as Dr Ashton Embry, whose work mainly involves the disease of multiple sclerosis but, because psoriasis too is an auto-immune disease, similar conclusions may be extended to also include this condition.

Obviously, because of the variable influence of oils already contained within the daily diet, it is both impossible and unnecessary to try to establish a 'perfect' balance, so this principle should be used only as a very rough guide.

An appropriate dosage table is shown below. Due to the frequent occurrence of headache when first taking the oil supplements it is recommended that the dose be increased slowly in accordance with the directions given.

The headache is believed due to increasing blood flow to the brain, in response to a beneficial change in the balance of prostaglandins in the blood. The headache, if it occurs, is temporary and will resolve within two or three days of starting the increased dose.



Omega-9 Oils

The third and final group of essential oils, is that comprising the omega-9 (or N-9) oils.

These include the monounsaturated oils as contained in such as olive oil. As the need for this oil is minimal, it is sufficient simply to use olive oil in cooking or frying (see section on cooking oils: chapter III).

Dose and Administration: Because capsules vary in the dose contained, it is necessary to consider dose per capsule when estimating the number of capsules of each to take.

Omega-6 Oil Omega-3 Oil.

First week One gramme/ day One gramme/ day
Second week Two grammes/ day Two grammes/ day
Third week Three grammes/ day Three grammes/ day
Fourth week Four grammes/ day Four grammes/ day

The dose is increased in this way until an arbitrary limit is reached.

This limit is determined by consideration of a combination of factors, including effectiveness of the treatment, cost and convenience. It would not be considered excessive to take six or more grammes of EPO per day, with an equal quantity of cod liver oil or flax seed oil, in conditions such as MS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis. Many more could be safely taken if desired and if found to be effective.

The minimum recommended for such conditions is four grammes of each per day.

This should consist of four grammes of omega-6 oils, of either evening primrose oil or borage-seed oil, plus four grammes of omega-3 oils.

Because of the lower cost of fish liver oil, and the need to limit the intake of vitamin A, it is recommended therefore, to take two grammes of the fish oil, plus two grammes of flax-seed oil.

Evening primrose oil is available on National Health Service prescriptions only for eczema and breast pain associated with pre-menstrual syndrome.


The administration of EPO or similar N-6 oils has been rarely associated with an increased risk of epileptic convulsions. It must therefore be advised that anyone suffering such a complaint should use it only with extreme caution or on the advice of their own doctor.

The use of large doses of cod-liver oil in pregnancy is not advised. This is due to the related content of vitamin A, which, in excess, has been associated with the occurrence of developmental defects in the baby. The safe limit of vitamin A in pregnancy is considered to be 10,000 international units per day. It is therefore advised that, during pregnancy or, if pregnancy is likely to occur, this limit should not be exceeded.

As cod-liver oil contains 5,000 int. units of vitamin A per gramme (1,000 mg) the safe limit of vitamin A, would be exceeded by taking more than 2 grammes (2,000 mg) of the oil per day.

It should be noted that the consumption of just two ounces of liver per week is also equivalent to 5,000 int. units of vitamin A per day. In this circumstance, therefore, additional sources of dietary vitamin A, such as liver, should be avoided.



DIETARY RESEARCH LIMITED, 10 HEOL GERRIG, TREBOETH, SWANSEA SA5 9BP
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