Are you suffering from joint pain? You’re not alone. Millions of people worldwide have arthritis. It’s a debilitating disease with no cure in sight. However, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help manage symptoms. The question now is, can omega-3 fatty acids also help with arthritis? Let’s find out below!
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What is omega-3 anyway?
Omega-3 refers to a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that contribute to heart health, brain and mental health, immune health, eye health, fertility, and more (1).
You’ve probably heard of the most popular ones, EPA and DHA, but there are actually 11 omega-3s found in nature. So far, only 4 have been considered vital for human health and function. These are:
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid)
- ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid)
- DPA (Docosapentaenoic acid)
DHA, EPA, and DPA are considered “marine” omega-3s. They are abundant in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and other seafood.
Of course, another excellent source of marine omega-3’s is our Intelligent Labs Ultra Pure Omega 3 supplement.
Each serving contains 1224mg EPA, 816mg DHA, and 210mg of other marine omega-3 fatty acids. Add them all up and each serving has a hefty 2,250mg of omega-3 fatty acids!
ALA, on the other hand, is a plant-based omega-3, making this a vegan option. ALA is found in various plants, nuts, and seeds. The body converts some ALA into EPA and DHA, but this process is far from efficient. In fact, ALA conversion to EPA is only around 5-10% and around 2-5% for DHA (2).
This article will focus on marine omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA and DHA) and if they can help with arthritis.
Related article: Get To Know The Different Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
What are the most common types of arthritis, and can omega-3 help?
Arthritis isn’t a single disease. Rather, it’s a collection of more than 100 conditions with a common root cause – chronic inflammation or swelling of the joints. The 3 most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and gout (3).
#1 – Osteoarthritis
Known as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is by far the most common form of arthritis. In 1990, 247 million people had OA. In 2019, this number ballooned to 527 million. Unfortunately, with the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles, this number is still expected to increase (4).
OA occurs when the cartilage that protects the joints degrades, mainly due to aging or trauma, causing the bony ends to rub together. This causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the affected joints. The most typical body parts affected by OA are the hands, hips, and knees. The sad truth is that the older we get, the more likely we will start developing the condition (5).
Can omega-3 fish oil help with osteoarthritis?
Unfortunately, the answer may be no.
Cordingley’s 2022 narrative review showed that while initial animal studies were very promising, actual human studies have been disappointing. Various omega-3 products, such as fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, and mussel extract, did not live up to the hype. Further research is needed to determine if omega-3 fatty acids can help slow cartilage deterioration and lower inflammation in OA patients (6).
An earlier systematic review also came to the same conclusion. Fish oil supplements apparently did not have any significant effects on OA patients. But interestingly, it did have remarkable results on RA patients (7)!
While fish oil may not benefit OA patients, the good news is that there are other all-natural arthritis relief supplements out there. For instance, Glucosamine and Boswellia may help manage OA pain and swelling and even preserve the joint structure (8, 9).
Our Intelligent Labs Glucosamine Complex is specifically formulated for joint health. In addition to Glucosamine, we added 7 other ingredients known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic action. These are Chondroitin, Boswellia, Turmeric, Quercetin, Methionine, MSM, and Bromelain.
Check out the blog posts below for more information on how our Glucosamine Complex can help with osteoarthritis management:
#2 – Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t just an ordinary inflammatory disease. It’s also an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system attacks healthy cells.
This form of arthritis is systemic (as opposed to localized like OA and gout) and affects more than just the joints. Tissue and organs that surround the joints may also be affected. It’s not uncommon for RA to cause widespread inflammation in the eyes, blood vessels, heart, and lungs (10).
Up to 1% of the global population, or up to 80 million people, is said to have this condition (11).
Can omega-3 fish oil help with rheumatoid arthritis?
The answer is yes, omega-3 may help RA patients!
A 2017 review of 20 clinical trials yielded promising results. In these trials, the average intake duration of fish oil supplements ranged from 12 to 52 weeks. Even at the shortest duration (12 weeks), RA patients showed significant improvement in their symptoms. Moreover, no adverse side effects were reported, even at high doses, suggesting fish oil safety (12).
Marine omega-3 fatty acids significantly improve RA symptoms, especially when the EPA:DHA ratio exceeds 1.5 (7).
Fish oil supplementation isn’t the only helpful way to reduce RA symptoms. Regular consumption of fish rich in omega-3 is also highly recommended. After all, you get more than just omega-3 from whole fish; there are also other nutrients to benefit from! Eating more servings of fish weekly leads to lower RA disease activity (13).
#3 – Gout
Gout is a form of arthritis that typically affects a single joint at a time, though it’s not unheard of to have multiple joints erupting in pain all at once!
Gout occurs when there’s too much uric acid in the body. The uric acid crystals build up in joints, causing excruciating flare-ups. Some have described gout pain as akin to sticking a red hot poker in the affected joint (14)!
According to Statista, around 34.5 million people suffered from gout in 2017. This number may increase to 38.5 million in 2026 (15).
Can omega-3 fatty acids help with gout?
While omega-3 has many scientifically-proven health benefits, its effects on gout aren’t well-studied yet. Only a few studies have been published so far, but the results don’t seem to favor omega-3 fish oil.
For instance, a recently published randomized controlled trial showed that taking fish oil for 6 months didn’t have any effect on uric acid levels or gout flares (16).
Also, eating omega-3 rich fish may be better at lowering gout attacks compared to omega-3 supplementation. Quite surprising considering the purine content in fish, but researchers did the math and made adjustments for anti-gout medication (17).
While a small study did report that high omega-3 levels may be associated with fewer gout attacks, it had a few drawbacks. For instance, the researchers did not collect data on dietary risk factors and patient lifestyles (18). Unfortunately, these are key pieces of information that can seriously affect the study’s outcome.
To sum up this article, omega-3 fatty acids may indeed help with rheumatoid arthritis. Sadly, its effects on osteoarthritis and gout aren’t as clear-cut, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat omega-3-rich foods or supplements. Without a doubt, omega-3 is one of the most vital nutrients for human health and wellness. It’s important to ensure sufficient levels of omega-3 fatty acids whether you have arthritis or not!