Melrose and the Royal Adelaide Hospital: Australian fish oil market pioneers - RAH Research Fund
News 3 July 2019

Melrose and the Royal Adelaide Hospital: Australian fish oil market pioneers

Melrose and the Royal Adelaide Hospital Rheumatology Unit share a unique, long-standing relationship that has quietly changed the fish oil market in Australia and the lives of people living with rheumatoid arthritis for decades.

Together, they bottled one of the most affordable and palatable liquid fish oils, setting out to make it accessible to everyday Australians and assisting in reducing the severity of inflammatory disease.

The 1980s were early days for the use of fish oil supplements in Australia. At the Royal Adelaide Hospital, rheumatologist Professor Les Cleland had begun trialling the prescription of fish oil capsules to help treat inflammatory diseases. The therapeutic dose, however, required a patient to take ten or more capsules per day, which was unaffordable, not to mention unpleasant, and led Les to seek a better solution.

There being no liquid fish oil available at the time, Professor Cleland started to buy drums of fish oil for bottling in the hospital dispensary. This proved unsustainable and so Professor Cleland approached Melrose founder Geoff Steinicke who at the time was already known for bottling the first organic flaxseed oil in Australia under the Melrose brand.

Geoff agreed to source an odourless, lightly-flavoured fish oil and supply reasonably-priced 500mL bottles ─ a one-month anti-inflammatory supply. The product was so popular that before long there was a stand of Melrose liquid fish oil in every pharmacy in South Australia, and the rest of the country followed.

Together Melrose and Professor Cleland’s research team changed the fish oil market in Australia, and made fish oil more accessible to the general population. The health of Australians, not profit, was their priority. Melrose’s affordable fish oil meant that Professor Cleland’s arthritis patients could take fish oil at anti-inflammatory doses if they chose to and allowed him to continue his important research. Further, in 2006 Melrose began donating a percentage of fish oil sales to assist the arthritis research by help Professor Cleland and his team.

Over the years, Professor Cleland and his colleague, Associate Professor Susanna Proudman, have conducted many studies into fish oil as a complementary therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. They found that fish oil taken as an adjunct to standard medications reduced symptoms and the need for additional drugs.

In a separate study, they showed that the clinical benefit is related to the blood levels of EPA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil. Their research results have become part of standard treatment with the prescribing of fish oil to rheumatoid arthritis patients in the Royal Adelaide Hospital Early Arthritis Clinic that they established in 1998.

Although retired, Professor Cleland continues to collaborate with Associate Professor Proudman, now the Head of Rheumatology at Royal Adelaide Hospital and Medical Director of Arthritis Australia. Later this year they will publish the results of a detailed study into the impacts of various lifestyle factors, such as taking fish oil, on patients with recent onset rheumatoid arthritis. The study is based on their research database that has been maintained for 20 years.

Today, treatment at the hospital is consistent with Professor Cleland and Associate Professor Proudman’s clinical experience and trial results. The Royal Adelaide Hospital Rheumatology Unit continues to acknowledge Melrose’s support in its ground-breaking work.