The test was conducted by doctors including Douglas Seidner, MD, who helped develop the supplement in collaboration with Abbott Laboratories' Ross Products Division. The findings appear in the April issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
The supplement isn't commercially available yet, says Seidner, a staff physician and director of nutrition in the gastroenterology and hepatology division of The Cleveland Clinic. "At the moment, we don't have any timeline to make it commercially available," he tells WebMD.
Not a Substitute for Conventional Drugs
Seidner says the supplement isn't intended to replace prescription drugs. "Generally speaking, individuals do need medication to maintain their disease in remission," he says.
"This product is meant to be a complement to standard medical therapy," Seidner continues. "People may be able to take a little less medication as a result of this. We don't want people to stop taking their pills."
His study notes that corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are "highly effective" in moderate to severe ulcerative colitis. "Unfortunately, adverse effects are a concern and more than a quarter of patients will relapse when corticosteroid treatment is discontinued," the study notes.
The supplement is a drink containing omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil; soluble fiber, which produces short-chain fatty acids; and antioxidants. The ingredients were chosen to fight inflammation and improve nutrition.
The supplement is meant to replace a portion of daily calories. If someone were to take the supplement without decreasing their food calories, they would "definitely get fat," says Seidner.
For six months, patients ate one-third fewer calories in order to drink about two daily 8-ounce cans of the supplement (59 patients) or placebo (62 patients). Otherwise, they were told to follow their normal diet.
Supplement and placebo patients had a similar improvement in symptoms, such as stool frequency and rectal bleeding. But the supplement group was able to reduce their need for prednisone much more than the placebo group.
The supplement group did tend to gain a little more weight, but it was not significant, says Seidner. Side effects were "truly negligible," he adds, calling the supplement "very safe."
The study was conducted at five U.S. clinical centers. Participants had had mild to moderate ulcerative colitis for at least six months.
Tough to Duplicate, Says Doctor
Seidner says he doubts that patients could create their own do-it-yourself equivalent of the supplement.
"This was specifically designed to provide certain amounts of each nutrient," he tells WebMD. That would make it "very difficult" for patients to get the same results by combining supplements on their own, he says.
"I can't tell you to take two parts of this and two parts of that," says Seidner.
Of course, eating a healthy diet is universally recommended. Speculation abounds about possible connections between foods and ulcerative colitis, but it's very difficult to tease out what in the diet might be important, says Seidner.