Crohn’s is characterized by alternating periods of flare-ups and remission. The first goal of intervention is to control symptoms and bring the disease into remission. Once in remission, the goal of treatment is to keep the patient in remission for as long as possible. A relapse occurs when remission ends and patients experience a flare-up of symptoms again.

Since fish oil affects inflammation, researchers have studied whether fish oil supplements would reduce the frequency of relapse. Initial studies compared the rate of relapse in patients taking fish oil compared to those taking a placebo. After one year, the patients who took fish oil did show a reduction in rate of relapse. These studies, however, were small and inconclusive. There was not enough data to confirm that fish oil was an effective maintenance therapy for Crohn’s disease.

Additional studies with larger groups of patients, however, do not support the use of fish oil as an effective way to prevent a relapse in Crohn’s patients.

Why is Fish Oil Important?

People and mammals need healthy fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are an important source of energy in our bodies. Omega-3 fats are found in some nuts, fruits and vegetables, and cold-water fish. They’re beneficial in many ways. For example, omega-3 fats boost our immune system, which helps protect us against disease, and encourages production of chemicals that help control inflammation. Many of us do not consume enough good fats, so we supplement our diet with fish oil or other sources of omega-3s, such as flax seed oil.

Omega-6 is also an essential fatty acid. However, when the two are out of balance—more omega-6 than omega-3—it increases the risk of heart and other diseases. Unfortunately, this is the case in typical American diets. Many of us need to increase our intake of omega-3 fats.

Fish oil does not appear to cause adverse effects in Crohn’s patients, and while it may not prevent a relapse, it may still be helpful for reducing inflammation. Talk with your physician about how fish oil might fit into your treatment program.