Will Taking Omega-3 Help My Multiple Sclerosis?

woman taking fish oil supplement
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For those with multiple sclerosis (MS), your ears likely perk up when you hear about omega-3 fatty acids contributing to “brain health.” In fact, some studies have found low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in people with MS. Other studies have shown that increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids could benefit a person's MS.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids contain two compounds, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are believed to decrease certain immune and inflammatory reactions in the body.

Since multiple sclerosis stems from a dysfunctional immune system, many MS scientists and doctors have become interested in the potential benefits of taking omega-3 to slow down the progression of MS.

Where Can I Get Omega-3?

You can obtain omega-3 through your diet and/or through supplements. Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acid include:

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Nuts, such as walnuts
  • Avocados
  • Some dark, leafy greens (such as kale, spinach, purslane, collard greens, mustard greens)

While fish are the best source of omega-3s, it's important not to eat too much of certain fish, due to mercury concentrations. Check out the Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish by the National Resources Defense Council, which tells you levels of mercury in different types of fish and how much of each type you can safely consume each month.

Omega-3 fatty acid can also be found in over-the-counter supplements, either as a pill or liquid form.

Of course, it's important to discuss taking a supplement with your doctor first. That way you can be sure it does not interact with your other medications. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids may interact with blood-thinning medications, like warfarin (Coumadin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), clopidogrel (Plavix) or aspirin, and increase your risk of bleeding.


Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also lower your blood pressure and blood sugar, so your diabetes or high blood pressure medications may need to be adjusted. 

The Science Behind Omega-3 in MS

In very small studies of 10 and 16 participants, people with MS that were treated with omega-3 supplementation had a reduced relapse rate and improved expanded disability status scale (EDSS) scores. In a larger placebo-controlled study, therapeutic effects (fewer relapses and less disability progression) were seen in the treatment group, although these were not statistically significant.

That all being said, in a large 2012 review article on fatty acid supplementation (both omega-3 and omega-6), data was found to be insufficient in determining whether supplementation with fatty acids is helpful or harmful. This means that more research is needed to see whether dietary supplements, like omega-3, are truly beneficial in MS. Simply put, we just don't know yet. 

What Does This Mean for Me?

It's wonderful that you are focusing on your MS health. While there is no robust scientific evidence that increasing omega-3 in your diet is going to benefit your MS, it may be worth a try. And if you find that you would rather focus on other healthy lifestyle measures instead, that's OK too.



Bates D, Cartlidge NE, French JM, Jackson MJ, Nightingale S, Shaw DA, Smith S, Woo E, Hawkins SA, Millar JH, et al. A double-blind controlled trial of long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1989 Jan;52(1):18-22.

Bowling, Allen C. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. 2nd ed. Demos Publishing: New York. 2007.

Farinotti M et al. Dietary interventions for multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Dec12;12:CD004192.

Hoare S et al. Higher intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with a decreased risk of a first clinical diagnosis of central nervous system demyelination: Results from the Ausimmune Study. Mult Scler. 2015 Sep 11. pii: 1352458515604380. [Epub ahead of print]

National MS Society. The Omega-3 Factor. Retrieved January 12th 2016. 

Schwarz S, Leweling H. Multiple sclerosis and nutrition. Mult Scler. 2005 Feb;11(1):24-32.

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