How Omega 3 Fish Oil Helps Alleviate Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Soothing Inflammation with Essential Fatty Acids

Omega3 Arthritis

Many think the onset of pain and stiff joints are signs of getting on in years; however, these symptoms are also hallmarks of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).  RA is a type of autoimmune disease that affects approximately 1% of the world’s population with greater incidence in women than men. Although RA can present in any decade, usual onset is middle age.

The presence of RA increases oxidative stress in the body and chronic inflammation in the smaller joints of the wrists, hands, and feet. When an individual has RA, the body attacks its own tissues resulting in symptoms such as joint pain, tenderness, and swelling often creating a significant reduction in motor function and quality of life.

Currently, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat pain and inflammation seen in RA.

Yet, recent studies have found that a more natural modality, omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, may help to alleviate this condition.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, DHA, and EPA?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid that we can only obtain through food. Foods rich in omega-3s are:

  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines

Some meats will contain a higher omega-3 profile depending on the diet of the animal. According to a review published in Nutrition Journal, grass-fed beef was found to be higher in omega-3s in comparison to grain-fed beef.

When we consume omega-3 fatty acids, our body converts these fats into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA can be converted to DHA and vice versa.

EPA and DHA serve many functions in the body. For example, EPA has been found to play a role in blood clotting, inflammation, and blood pressure. DHA is necessary for brain and eye health.

Note that the plant sources mentioned above do not contain EPA or DHA. Only the animal sources provide both because the conversion from omega-3s has already occurred in the animal’s body. If you do not consume animal products, quality EPA/DHA supplements sourced from purified marine algal oil are available on the market.

Genetics and lifestyle affect how our bodies convert these fatty acids but, overall, conversion rates are low and differ between individuals.

This is why supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids that contain both EPA and DHA may prove beneficial to health, prevention, and treatment of disease—especially if you are prone to inflammation.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Omega-3s: What Are the Benefits?

When an individual has RA, the body’s immune system produces inflammatory molecules that wreak havoc on the joints thereby generating all of the aforementioned symptoms.

Numerous studies have found both EPA and DHA to decrease these overactive immune responses in cells by reducing the overproduction of inflammatory molecules that occur as a result of RA.

According to Current Opinion in Pharmacology, within the body EPA and DHA are found to produce lipid molecules called resolvins that are even more potent at attenuating inflammation than their parent omega-3s.

As a result, omega-3 fatty acid intervention among individuals with RA has been found to decrease the number of swollen joints, stiffness, pain, and the need for NSAID use.

The Connection Between Diet and RA: Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Along with omega-3s, the essential fatty acid known as omega-6 is significant in terms of RA, the treatment, and the progression of the disease. Omega-6 fatty acids are found predominantly in vegetable oils (i.e., standard vegetable, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower). Omega-6 is needed for growth, development, and metabolism but when consumed in excess, it can lead to inflammation.

Recall how pro-inflammatory molecules play a role in the manifestation of symptoms we see associated with RA. These pro-inflammatory molecules stem in part from arachadonic acid, a product of omega-6 fatty acids.

When high amounts of omega-6 are consumed, more arachadonic acid is produced resulting in increased levels of pro-inflammatory molecules and hence, inflammation.

In conjunction with omega-3 supplementation, diet has shown to improve the severity of RA. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet that possesses a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids has shown to be beneficial and may help to alleviate and slow the progression of arthritis by making inflammatory precursors less available.

Watch this video to find out more about Omega 3 and its benefits.

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A diet rich in the following foods may prove favorable in lowering inflammation:

  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs

In a study conducted by Hayashi et al., individuals with RA who consumed diets higher in omega-3s, fish oil, and monounsaturated fatty acids (i.e., olives, olive oil, nuts, avocados) experienced a lesser degree of disease severity.  In comparison, diets higher in omega-6 and saturated fat promoted inflammation.

Along with a diet rich in plants, reduced meat consumption is also advised. A recent Nurses’ Health Study analyzed the concentration of plasma inflammatory molecules in 3,690 women in connection to their amount of red meat intake. Results showed that greater red meat intake was linked to higher levels of circulating inflammatory molecules.

To improve these levels, the authors suggested the intake of other forms of protein. Moreover, as mentioned above, if meat is consumed, choosing grass-fed over grain-fed meat is the best option.

Treating the Whole Person: The Role of Complementary Medicine

Due to the side effects of many RA medications, individuals are seeking out other complementary modalities of treatment to help manage this condition. It is important to discuss supplemental interventions and dietary options with your physician and a Registered Dietitian in order to create a wellness plan that is best for you.

With help, no matter your condition or stage in life, optimal wellness may be right at your fingertips.


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