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Show 1300: How Vitamin D and Omega-3s Help Your Health

In this week's interview, a high-powered study called VITAL revealed that vitamin D and omega-3s can reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases.
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How Vitamin D and Omega-3s Help Your Health

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In our nationally syndicated radio show this week, we consider the benefits of two dietary supplements against autoimmune diseases. Although health care providers are sometimes skeptical about the value of supplements, the VITAL trial represents gold-standard research. In fact, this large, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial demonstrated that vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acids each reduce the risk of autoimmune disease.

What Was the VITAL Trial?

The Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL) was designed to test the value of vitamin D (2,000 IU per day) and/or fish oil (1,000 mg per day) in preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 3, 2019; New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 3, 2019). It included more than 25,000 volunteers for over five years. Unfortunately, these supplements did not significantly reduce the risk for either heart disease or cancer.

Supplements Against Autoimmune Disease:

On the other hand, another portion of the study analyzed how many people were newly diagnosed with a condition such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica or psoriasis.  Each supplement reduces a person’s chance of developing such a disease (BMJ, Jan. 26, 2022).

How Vitamin D and Omega-3s Help Your Health:

Dr. Karen Costenbader, a lead investigator on this part of the trial, explains why this is such an exciting research result. She also describes how to put vitamin D and omega-3s to work to help your health.

What Should We Know About Omega-3s?

Marine oils, such as those from sardines, anchovies, tuna or other fatty fish, are the main source of omega-3 fatty acids. Preventive cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum discusses the history of omega-3 supplements to help prevent heart disease. Moreover, she describes the various components, including EPA, DHA and ALA, and how they compare. How can we decide whether we should take omega-3s?

Side Effects of Omega-3s:

At the doses utilized in the VITAL trial, participants did not report any serious side effects. However, people who take pure EPA in the form of prescription Vascepa may be more susceptible to atrial fibrillation, a common heart arrhythmia. Dr. Steinbaum discusses this side effect and the possibility of a greater chance of bleeding. In addition, she offers her advice for patients and their health care providers on how to use marine omega-3s to improve their health.

This Week’s Guests:

Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, FACC, is a leader in preventive cardiology, now in private practice in New York. She is founder and CEO of Heart-Tech Health, a med-tech innovation to decrease the risk of women’s cardiovascular disease through accessible prevention for women everywhere. She previously launched heart prevention programs at Mt. Sinai Heart, Northwell Lenox Hill and Beth Israel. Dr. Steinbaum is the author of Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart Healthy Life

Her website is: https://www.drsuzannesteinbaum.com/  The photo is of Dr. Steinbaum.

Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH, is a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She directs the lupus program there. In addition, Dr. Costenbader is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Her website is: https://researchfaculty.brighamandwomens.org/BRIProfile.aspx?id=977
The research findings from the VITAL trial relevant to autoimmune disease were published in The BMJ, Jan. 26, 2022:

Vitamin D and marine omega 3 fatty acid supplementation and incident autoimmune disease: VITAL randomized controlled trial.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, May 9, 2022, after broadcast on May 7. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.

Download the mp3

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Manson JE et al, "Vitamin D supplements and prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease." New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 3, 2019. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1809944
  • Manson JE et al, "Marine n-3 fatty acids and prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer." New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 3, 2019. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1811403
  • Hahn J et al, "Vitamin D and marine omega 3 fatty acid supplementation and incident autoimmune disease: VITAL randomized controlled trial." BMJ, Jan. 26, 2022. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-066452
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