Arthritis is a catch-all term that describes more than 100 different medical conditions. All of these conditions cause inflammation in the musculoskeletal system.
At this point, a definitive cause for the development of most of these arthritic conditions has not been found. However, researchers and doctors do have treatment protocols to help individuals decrease the pain and inflammation, and to improve their muscle function.(1)
One of the treatments which individuals and physicians have experimented with is fish oil supplements.
Fish Oil Omega 3
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, both fresh water and salt water varieties.
Research over the past decade has found that both Omega six and Omega three fatty acids are essential. This means there are both essential to human health, and cannot be made in the body.
These fats they must be gotten from dietary sources. Together, they play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development.
There has been data from a few randomized double controlled studies that have demonstrated a beneficial effect to individuals who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and use dietary fish oil supplements.
In many of these studies the patients were able to decrease the amount of other medications they use in order to control or inflammation. And, in one study the researchers found that combining fish oil with olive oil could also enhance the anti-inflammatory effects.(2,3,4)
Does not stop Arthritis Progression
Researchers know for sure that Omega three fatty acids from fish oil will decrease the inflammatory process in the body. Fish oil, because of this, will reduce pain and swelling in individuals who suffer from some forms of arthritis.
But there has not been any evidence that it reduces the progression of the disease. Omega-3 fatty acids also lowered triglycerides, reduced blood pressure and protected against cardiovascular disease.(5)
The type of fish oil which is used for the supplements is important. Research has found that salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna and herring, all of which are cold water fish, produce the best omega-3 fatty acids to produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
Studies and more Studies
A meta-analysis of nine studies of patients with rheumatoid arthritis concluded that omega-3 fatty acids had no effect on patients' reports of pain and disease severity, swollen joint count, or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (a measure of disease activity).
An earlier meta-analysis found that the omega-3 fatty acids produced a statistically significant improvement in tender joint count compared to a placebo.
A qualitative analysis of seven studies that assessed the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on anti-inflammatory drug or corticosteroid requirements found that six demonstrated reduced requirements.
No studies looked at how the supplements affected requirements for disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, and no studies used a composite score that incorporated both subjective and objective measures of disease activity.
Overall, omega-3 fatty acids appear to reduce tender joint counts in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and may reduce requirements for corticosteroids. The studies do not demonstrate an effect of the supplements on other clinical outcomes.
Supplements Not for Everyone
Many researchers agree that you cannot get enough of the omega-3 fatty acids from eating foods alone and must use dietary supplementation. However, not everyone should take these supplements.
For instance, individuals who are on an anticoagulant therapy program will find that omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil will impact their clotting times. Pregnant women should not take these supplements because of the danger of mercury poisoning to the baby.
In general, side effects are minor, primarily gastrointestinal in nature, such as diarrhea, and were reported by fewer than 7% of subjects in a study of 10,000 participants.
In the study, supplements were not associated with serious adverse events such as death, life-threatening illness, significant disability, or handicap. Omega-3 fatty acids did not affect the frequency of bleeding events.
However, several cases of clinical bleeding in two randomised controlled trials were reported, where patients also took warfarin or aspirin daily; the bleeding, whether at the site of a wound or into the gastrointestinal tract, was typically mild.
Talk to your Rheumatologist
As with all supplements that you may consider in order to reduce the pain and inflammation from your arthritis, you must consult with your primary care doctor or rheumatologist.
While they may be dietary supplements, they are still chemicals which you are putting into your body and can cause either side effects or interactions with other medications you are already taking.
Your rheumatologist will be able to help you with these questions and your pharmacist will be able to tell you if there is any drug interactions with any medications you’re currently on.
Arthritis can be a seriously debilitating disease. The good news is that recent research has discovered there are excellent natural products, including omega-3 fish oils, then help to treat the pain and discomfort for individuals who are suffering from arthritis.
As research continues to develop and discover a variety of ways of treating this inflammatory process there continues to be hope on the horizon for those who suffer on a daily basis.
(1) Arthritis Foundation: Types of Arthritis
(2) The Journal of Rheumatology: Collateral Benefits of Fish Oil Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis
(3) Arthritis and Rheumatism: Effects of high-dose fish oil on rheumatoid arthritis after stopping nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Clinical and immune correlates
(4) Arthritis Today: Supplemental Relief
(5) Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease