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Joseph C. Maroon, M.D.

Joseph C. Maroon, M.D.

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Fish Oil Supplements Are Safe, Effective Alternative To NSAIDs For Many Patients With Neck, Low-Back Pain

University of Pittsburgh study results published in Surgical Neurology journal

PITTSBURGH, April 4, 2006 — Fish oil supplements with omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) were proven to be a safe and effective alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for the majority of patients with neck and low-back inflammation and pain from disc and arthritic causes in a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and published in the April issue of Surgical Neurology, an international journal of neurosurgery and neuroscience.

“Degenerative disc disease is one of the greatest causes of pain and disability in the United States, affecting approximately one out of four people at some time in their lives,” according to Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., the study’s lead author and professor and vice chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

To treat acute and chronic nonspecific neck and back pain caused by inflammation, the use of NSAIDs had been a well-established effective therapy for many years. “However, after the realization in recent years that extreme complications, including gastric ulcers, bleeding, heart complications and even deaths have been associated with the use of NSAIDs, several of the most widely used brands have been pulled from the U.S. market,” explained study co-author Jeffrey W. Bost, P.A.C. Annually, more than 100,000 people in the United States have been hospitalized and nearly 20,000 patients have died of complications related to the use of NSAIDs for the treatment of pain and inflammation, according to Bost.

“It is important for patients to understand that safer, less-toxic alternatives to anti-inflammatories are available,” said Dr. Maroon. “A fish oil supplement containing omega-3 EFAs is a natural alternative treatment that reduces the inflammatory process and thereby reduces pain, with fewer side effects. People should be careful to choose a pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement that is free of potentially harmful heavy metals, such as mercury, PCPs and dioxins that can be found in fish.”

In the study, Dr. Maroon surveyed 250 patients who were taking NSAIDs. He then prescribed a fish oil supplement with omega-3 EFAs, for treatment of their neck and low back pain, which resulted from disc disease and arthritis. Of those patients, 125 returned questionnaires showing that 60 percent experienced improved overall pain and 59 percent discontinued use of NSAIDs including Vioxx®, Motrin™, Celebrex™ and Bextra™. The study also found that most patients had no significant side effects and that 88 percent planned to continue the use of omega-3 EFAs.

“Our study adds to the numerous previously published studies showing the health benefits of omega-3 EFAs, which include blood clot prevention, pain reduction, immune system boosting and healthy blood vessel dilation. In fact, the FDA now recognizes that omega-3 EFAs can prevent coronary artery disease. Additional clinical trials have shown that arthritis patients who take fish oils could eliminate or sharply reduce their use of NSAIDs,” said Dr. Maroon.

“The importance of this work to neurosurgeons is that now there is an (anti-inflammatory) agent that can take the place of the (NSAIDs) and be used with no side effects,” wrote the Surgical Neurology journal’s editor, James I. Ausman, M.D., Ph.D., in an introductory commentary published with the study paper, entitlted, “Omega-3 Fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: An alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain.”

Dr. Maroon and colleagues are continuing research into the use of fish oil supplements for joint inflammation and pain in professional athletes.

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