Fish oil supplements have gained significant attention in recent years for their potential benefits in managing pain, particularly in Arthritis. As a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil supplements have shown promise in reducing inflammation, alleviating joint pain, and improving overall joint health. In this article we delve into what you need to know about fish oil supplements and their potential role in arthritis management.
The biological role of Fatty Acids
Omega 3 and Omega 6 are essential fatty acids, which play a vital role in the body, and have a number of powerful pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties. Below are some of the proposed biological processes that are said to make Omega 3-fatty acids beneficial:
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Omega 3-fatty acids, contain Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docohexasonic acid (DHA). When sufficient amounts of EPA & DHA are available in the body, they can help reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances such as cytokines, and prostaglandins, which can help mitigate inflammation and alleviate severity arthritic symptoms.
- Modulating the immune system: In auto-immune forms of arthritis, like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), there has been research to suggest omega-3 is beneficial for modulating cell activity and suppressing the production of inflammatory molecules which are responsible for tissue damage. This is said to be beneficial for managing the auto-immune component of the disease.
- Joint protection: Fatty acids play a crucial role in maintain the health and integrity of cellular membranes, blood vessels, and tissue structures, including joint structures. They are responsible for improving the cells fluidity and flexibility. This is why they suggest omega-3’s may help with joint stiffness and limited mobility experienced in certain joints.
- Pain management: Chronic pain is a hallmark symptom for arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids may offer relief by influencing pain signaling pathways by reducing the production of pain producing substances like prostaglandins, and promote the release of anti-inflammatory molecules.
- Supporting cartilage health: Cartilage is comprised of connective tissue that cushions the joint and allows for movement. In arthritis, cartilage can deteriorate which can lead to joint damage. Omega 3’s may have a role in enhancing the production of molecules involved in cartilage maintenance such as proteoglycans and collagen, and suppress the enzymes responsible for breakdown.
Research & Dosage
Rheumatoid Arthritis; In an RCT conducted in 2013, 5.5g/day of EPA + DHA are likely to be of greatest benefit to those of an early diagnosis, less than 12months. The study showed a doubled rate of remission and reduced failure of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARD’s). Up to 12g/day is said to be potentially beneficial but most of research that is used to inform a supplementation regime, suggests the dose needed to reduce joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis is 2.7 grams of omega-3 fats (EPA plus DHA) daily.
Osteoarthritis: In a more recent RCT, conducted in 2020, 2.4g EPA+DHA, along with 160mg/day of curcumin was able to show reduced OA pain. Most of the research used to supplement fish oil agree on consuming them at a lower dose (providing 0.45 grams of omega-3 fats).
Whilst the research seems promising, it is important to acknowledge there are many limitations in study that mean the results we read about, don’t always mean it applies to everyone. A higher dose not also mean it will be more effective as there are many factors to consider when it comes to absorption and achieving a therapeutic effect.
Krill Oil may be another beneficial type of fatty acid supplement which is said to be better absorbed than fish oil. In mouse models, this supplement has shown to induce anti-inflammatory actions in RA induced mice.
Choosing the right fish oil supplement
When considering supplements for arthritis, it is important to first of all check with your doctor so they can provide guidance on the appropriate dosage, and potential interactions with other medications including aspirin, ibuprofen and other anti-coagulant & anti-platelet medications. It should be noted that 1000 mg fish oil capsules will usually only contain between 300 mg and 400 mg of omega 3 fats (EPA + DHA).
Fish oils can be safe for most people, with slight risks of experiencing minor GI symptoms and discomfort. Some supplements can also have a fishy taste.
Whilst you can obtain your omega 3 fatty acids from supplements, you can also get it from your food like seafood, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies), omega-3 enriched eggs. It’s always important to ensure you are always following a healthy diet along supplementation.
You can read more about fish oils here: