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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Can These Supplements Help Psoriasis?

Posted on June 23, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

There are a variety of treatment options for psoriasis, including topical medications and prescription drugs. However, some people complement their psoriasis treatment with a healthy diet and anti-inflammatory supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements — sometimes called fish oil supplements — are not an approved psoriasis treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some people with the condition use the supplements alongside other treatments to manage their symptoms. Fish oil may also help protect against diseases that people with psoriasis are at a higher risk of developing, such as heart disease and psoriatic arthritis.

The current research on omega-3 supplements and psoriasis is mixed, meaning it is not clear whether these supplements improve psoriasis symptoms. Still, anecdotal evidence suggests it may help some people. You should seek advice from your dermatologist before trying any dietary modifications or supplements for treating your psoriasis.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that are important to the health of the membranes (outer layer) of all cells in our bodies. Omega-3s also support the function of the heart, liver, lungs, and, importantly, the immune system as a potential anti-inflammatory. Our bodies don’t make omega-3 fatty acids on their own, so we must get them through food or nutritional supplements.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

ALA is found in nuts, seeds, vegetables, and oils, including flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. EPA and DHA are found in fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and shellfish. Microalgae is also a source of EPA and DHA and can be taken as a supplement. This is an option for people who can not or do not eat fish.

Some studies have shown that people who eat diets that are high in omega-3s have a reduced risk of certain diseases — including heart disease, cancer, and psoriasis — though more research is needed. Much of this research is correlational, meaning that it shows a connection between people who eat a lot of omega-3s and a reduced risk of disease. The research does not necessarily prove that eating omega-3s is responsible for reduced risk of disease.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that has an unclear cause. It is a systemic inflammatory disease that can affect the entire body, and common symptoms include raised plaques or lesions on the skin. Although the exact cause is unknown, the condition causes inflammation of the skin, and in cases of psoriatic arthritis, inflammation of the joints.

The idea that omega-3s could help psoriasis symptoms is based on its anti-inflammatory mechanisms. Studies and clinical trials have found that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, making them effective in supplementing treatment for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, including ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. People in these trials had lowered disease activity and relied less on anti-inflammatory medications. Therefore, scientists have hypothesized that an anti-inflammatory supplement like omega-3s could also help relieve psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

What Does the Research Say?

In a review of the literature from 1960 to 2013, researchers evaluated 15 different studies that looked at the effects of fish oil supplementation on psoriasis. Psoriasis symptoms were measured through scales including the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI). The PASI includes self-reported questions about the severity and amount of psoriasis plaques and symptoms. Twelve of the 15 studies showed that fish oil supplementation was associated with improved psoriasis symptoms.

However, a more recent study that assessed 13 randomized controlled trials (thought to be the most reliable type of study design) found that fish oil supplementation did not help to reduce the severity of psoriasis symptoms.

A similar systematic review that evaluated 12 different studies also found inconclusive evidence of whether fish oil had any effect on psoriasis symptoms.

Although there is a lot of optimism that omega-3s could help psoriasis symptoms, more research is needed to draw better conclusions.

MyPsoriasisTeam Members on Fish Oil Supplements

MyPsoriasisTeam members’ experiences seem to reflect the data. Some members have discussed the benefits they have found from taking different types of omega-3 supplements or fish oils: “Not as red and fewer plaques already after two weeks. Can only help my stiff knees too,” wrote one member about their experience taking 1,000-milligram omega-3 fish oil capsules daily for two weeks.

Another member said that their pain from psoriasis “was much better when I was taking it.”

Other members reported that they did not find any symptom relief when using omega-3 supplements. One member said they’d tried vitamin D and omega-3 supplements “for a long time and got zero results.”

Another summed it up frankly: “Whether it works or not, who knows? Worth a try.”

Recommended Use of Omega-3 Supplements

There are no formal recommendations for daily intake of EPA and DHA. However, experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that adult women get 1.1 grams per day and that adult men get 1.6 grams per day.

According to the NIH, most adults will get the necessary amount of omega-3s through food, and omega-3 deficiencies are rare. If you do not get the recommended amount of ALA through food, supplementation is an option. There are many different types of omega-3 supplements, and they come in the form of capsules, tablets, oils, liquids, and even gummies.

Talk to your doctor about the appropriate dosage of omega-3 supplements for your psoriasis.

Potential Side Effects From Omega-3 Supplements

A few bothersome yet mild side effects are possible from taking fish oil supplements or too high of a dose. Side effects include:

  • A fishy aftertaste
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches

If you are on blood-thinning medications, such as Coumadin (warfarin), you should avoid taking fish oil or omega-3 supplements because they may interfere with blood clotting. Talk to your doctor if you are on medications such as blood thinners but want to learn more about omega-3 supplementation.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 94,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Do you have psoriasis and use omega-3 supplements? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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