UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine; Department of Family Medicine and Community Health; Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology

Publication Date


Document Type



Arthritis, Rheumatoid; Cardiovascular Diseases; Dyslipidemias; Fish Oils; Plant Oils


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Behavioral Disciplines and Activities | Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Musculoskeletal Diseases | Preventive Medicine


Background: Over the past 30 years substantial progress has been made in the medical and surgical management of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Despite this progress, there is an increasing gap in mortality between patients with RA (1.5-3.0 fold risk) and the general population. This disparity is mainly attributable to cardiovascular disease (CVD) as the CVD risk is comparable in RA patients as to patients with diabetes mellitus. Although the reasons for this gap are not entirely clear, the traditional risk of abnormalities in lipid profiles appears to be enhanced by a chronic increase in inflammatory cytokines, resulting in accelerated atherosclerosis.

Study Objective: The object of this study was to determine the effect of marine (fish oil) and botanical oils (borage oil) on lipids (TC, HDL, LDL, TG), a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in patients with RA. The main outcome (to be presented elsewhere) was to determine whether a combination of borage seed oil rich in gammalinolenic acid (GLA) and fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is superior to either oil alone for the treatment of RA.

Population and Setting: The study was an 18 month randomized, double-masked comparison of borage seed oil, fish oil, and the combination of both oils in RA patients with active synovitis.

Intervention: Patients received 3.5 gm omega-3 fatty acids daily in a 2.1gm EPA/1.4 gm DHA ratio (7 fish oil and 6 sunflower oil capsules daily); or 1.8 gm /d GLA (6 borage oil and 7 sunflower oil capsules /d); or 7 fish oil and 6 borage oil capsules daily (combination therapy).

Discussion: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic inflammatory disease. Mediators of inflammation and prothrombotic factors contribute to endothelial dysfunction and development of cardiovascular disease in RA patients. Marine and botanical oils represent an excellent primary or secondary therapy for improvement of the cardiovascular risk management in RA.

Patients taking these oils exhibit significant additional reductions in total and LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, the TC/HDL ratio, and in the atherogenic index, and experience a significant increase in HDL-cholesterol. All of these improvements in the lipid profile were seen after 9 months of therapy, and increased after 18 months of oils administration.

The overall dropout rate was 51%, and was similar across groups: 25 in the borage oil group, 28 in the fish oil group, and 22 in the combination group. Reasons for dropout were mainly gastrointestinal distress (belching, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, cramping), or an inability to swallow the large number of rather sizable capsules. This can be ameliorated by freezing the capsules and reducing their size. Among those evaluated for this study, compliance was 100%, assessed by pill counts.

Learning Outcome: All treatments were safe, thus treatment of RA patients with one or a combination of these or similar oils should prove useful for reduction of cardiovascular risk in RA patients.

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DOI of Published Version


Journal/Book/Conference Title

2011 Massachusetts Dietetic Association Conference


Presented at the Massachusetts Dietetic Association Conference, March 2011.