BACKGROUND: Patients with Crohn's disease may have periods of remission, interrupted by relapses. Because fish oil has anti-inflammatory actions, it could reduce the frequency of relapses, but it is often poorly tolerated because of its unpleasant taste and gastrointestinal side effects.

METHODS: We performed a one-year, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to investigate the effects of a new fish-oil preparation in the maintenance of remission in 78 patients with Crohn's disease who had a high risk of relapse. The patients received either nine fish-oil capsules containing a total of 2.7 g of n-3 fatty acids or nine placebo capsules daily. A special coating protected the capsules against gastric acidity for at least 30 minutes.

RESULTS: Among the 39 patients in the fish-oil group, 11 (28 percent) had relapses, 4 dropped out because of diarrhea, and 1 withdrew for other reasons. In contrast, among the 39 patients in the placebo group, 27 (69 percent) had relapses, 1 dropped out because of diarrhea, and 1 withdrew for other reasons (difference in relapse rate, 41 percentage points; 95 percent confidence interval, 21 to 61; P < 0.001). After one year, 23 patients (59 percent) in the fish-oil group remained in remission, as compared with 10 (26 percent) in the placebo group (P = 0.003). Logistic-regression analysis indicated that only fish oil and not sex, age, previous surgery, duration of disease, or smoking status affected the likelihood of relapse (odds ratio for the placebo group as compared with the fish-oil group, 4.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.6 to 10.7).

CONCLUSIONS: In patients with Crohn's disease in remission, a novel enteric-coated fish-oil preparation is effective in reducing the rate of relapse.