In sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease affecting people of African and Mediterranean ancestry, the body produces curved or “sickle-shaped” red blood cells. The shape diminishes the cells’ oxygen-carrying capacity, leading to shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, and cold hands and feet. Blood flow to limbs and organs can be restricted, causing chronic pain, organ damage, and sudden onset, severe bodily pain, a situation called sickle cell crisis.
Medications can relieve symptoms and manage complications, but researchers continue to look for better treatments. It turns out that a common dietary supplement—omega-3 fats—may be a promising option for those living with sickle cell anemia.
To study the effects of omega-3 fats on complications of sickle cell disease, researchers randomly selected 140 children, adolescents, and young adults with the disease to receive daily omega-3 fat supplements or a placebo for one year. The supplements contained two omega-3 fats—DHA and EPA—and were administered according to age.
A total of 128 participants completed the one-year study, which revealed that compared with those who did not receive omega-3 fat supplements, those in the supplement group:
The differences were large, and statistically significant.
The study was small, and larger studies are required to confirm the results. Still, it points to an easy, generally safe, natural way to better manage sickle cell disease. Additional tips for coping with sickle cell anemia include:
(Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97:37–44)