Eating oily fish can benefit people suffering from the potentially fatal disease lupus, a study suggests.
Oily fish can reduce inflammation
Researchers in Northern Ireland have found that people with the disease who eat tuna, mackerel and similar fish reduce their symptoms.
Lupus is a disease where the immune system turns on the body's organs and tissues, continually damaging them.
This can lead to painful or swollen joints, fever, skin rashes, kidney or heart problems and extreme fatigue.
The condition affects about 40 to 50 people per 100,000, most commonly women around the age of 30.
There is no cure for the disease. Patients often take steroids to manage the condition, although these can have significant side effects.
Fish oil supplements
But scientists at the University of Ulster have found evidence to suggest that fish and fish oil supplements could help people with the disease.
They examined a group of patients who took fish oil supplements three times a day for six months.
These patients were generally healthier than those in a second group who took dummy pills over the same period.
Increasing dietary intake of the polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish can have beneficial effects for lupus sufferers
According to the scientists, patients on supplements also had a better quality of life and were less likely to suffer from fatigue.
Dr Emeir Duffy, one of the scientists involved in the study, said: "Participants in the study who were taking fish oil supplements, three times per day for 24 weeks, saw a reduction in disease activity, an improvement in quality of life and reported an overall feeling of improved health by the end of the study compared to those taking a placebo supplement.
"Participants taking the fish oil also showed a reduction in fatigue severity, the most debilitating symptom for lupus sufferers."
She said the findings suggested that patients with lupus should consider taking fish oil supplements or eating more oily fish.
Dr Duffy said: "From our study and from other work, there is evidence that increasing dietary intake of the polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish can have beneficial effects for lupus sufferers.
"Good examples of fatty fish include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon."
Fish oils contain long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids which are essential for normal growth and development but also have anti-inflammatory and anti-autoimmune properties.