Fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis With Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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For the 1.3 million Americans with rheumatoid arthritis, increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful. Omega-3 fatty acids are said to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms such as pain and stiffness as well as protect patients from joint damage.

A top source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil. Sourced from oily fish like salmon and sardines, fish oil is abundant in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Flaxseed, meanwhile, is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in dietary supplement form.

Why Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Sometimes Used for Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief?

One hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation in the lining of your joints—a type of tissue referred to as the synovium. Because omega-3 fatty acids may lower your body's production of inflammatory chemicals, it's theorized that intake of omega-3s can help inhibit this inflammation and thwart joint damage.

Omega-3 fatty acids may also help treat rheumatoid arthritis by influencing immune activity. Classified as an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium. It's thought that omega-3 fatty acids may help regulate the immune response.

What's more, some research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis by improving their heart health.

Careful management of cardiovascular risk factors may be especially important for rheumatoid arthritis patients since the condition is associated with increased risk of heart disease.

Research on Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Rheumatoid Arthritis

In a report published in Archives of Medical Research, scientists analyzed 10 previously published clinical trials (including a total of 370 participants) that tested the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on people with rheumatoid arthritis.

The analysis was restricted to clinical trials with a minimum duration of three months and a minimum dosage of 2.7 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

In their analysis, the report's authors determined that patients treated with omega-3 fatty acids tended to experience slightly greater improvements in symptoms such as swelling and stiffness and in physical function, compared to patients given a placebo. Furthermore, use of omega-3 fatty acids was linked to reduced consumption of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—a class of medications often used to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Caveats

While studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids are likely safe for most people when taken in doses of three grams or less per day, there's some concern that higher doses may interfere with blood clotting and increase your risk of bleeding. 

Additionally, taking omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil supplements may trigger a number of side effects, such as bad breath, heartburn, and nausea.

Using Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief

Since rheumatoid arthritis can lead to serious health problems, including major joint damage and disability, it's important to work closely with your physician in managing this condition rather than attempting to self-treat the disease with omega-3 fatty acids or any other form of alternative medicine.

In most cases, proper treatment of rheumatoid arthritis involves a variety of approaches, often including medications as well as lifestyle changes like practicing stress reduction, getting sufficient sleep, and following an anti-inflammatory diet.

Moreover, proper treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can help protect you from many emotional and psychological issues commonly experienced by patients, like depression and anxiety.

Alternatives to Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief

Like omega-3 fatty acids, natural substances such as gamma-linolenic acid and herbs like boswellia and devil's claw also show promise in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Sources:

Ariza-Ariza R1, Mestanza-Peralta M, Cardiel MH. "Omega-3 fatty acids in rheumatoid arthritis: an overview." Semin Arthritis Rheum. 1998 Jun;27(6):366-70.

Berbert AA1, Kondo CR, Almendra CL, Matsuo T, Dichi I. "Supplementation of fish oil and olive oil in patients with rheumatoid arthritis." Nutrition. 2005 Feb;21(2):131-6.

Calder PC1. "Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: nutrition or pharmacology?" Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Mar;75(3):645-62.

Goldberg RJ1, Katz J. "A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain." Pain. 2007 May;129(1-2):210-23.

Lee YH1, Bae SC, Song GG. "Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis." Arch Med Res. 2012 Jul;43(5):356-62.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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