For better or worse, fat has a bad reputation. Trans fats and many kinds of saturated (solid) fats are bad for the body in excess amounts, including shortening, butter, ice cream, cookies, cakes, biscuits, donuts, and fried chicken. However, this represents a mere fraction of the overall fat landscape.
Unsaturated fats tell a completely different story. Research suggests that a healthy intake of unsaturated fats may have a variety of health benefits, such as a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acid is a special type of unsaturated fat, and research suggests that it may lower inflammation in arthritis patients. It may also reduce your reliance on NSAIDs and other corticosteroids that control your body’s inflammation.
We want to discuss what makes this group of fatty acids so special and why many arthritis patients take supplements containing high amounts of omega-3s.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Essential to the human body, omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that we must get from our diet. The three main omega-3s are:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Once you consume ALA, your body can make the other two (EPA and DHA) but not in substantial amounts. Thus, we must get those from our diet, as well.
Why are Omega-3s Important?
Extensive research has been done on the benefits of omega-3s. Not only are they essential to our bodies’ basic functions, but they also may have some additional health benefits. In fact, the FDA recently approved an ultra-pure form of omega-3 fish oil to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in adults with high triglycerides. At the moment, this version is only available in prescription form.
As of this article, however, the FDA has not formally approved omega-3s for treatment of any other condition, illness, or disease. That said, the FDA announced in 2019 that it would not object to claims stating that EPA and DHA may reduce the risk of hypertension and coronary heart disease. The agency found that, while there is some credible evidence suggesting those two substances may lower blood pressure, the evidence was inconclusive and inconsistent.
Therefore, omega-3s remain a dietary supplement until further research proves otherwise.
Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Arthritis Patients
It’s clear that further research must be done on omega-3s, including how it affects certain types of arthritis. Currently, however, several clinical trials, including one published in 2016, have suggested that a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the need for pain relievers in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Thus, fish oil might also be beneficial for osteoarthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
How Much Omega-3s Do I Need to Consume?
The amount of omega-3 fatty acids you need depends on your age and sex. However, the good news is omega-3 deficiency is very rare in the United States. As long as you eat a well-balanced diet, you won’t need to take a supplement unless you have discussed it with your doctor. A therapeutic dose of omega-3’s for treating arthritis pain would likely be upwards of 3000 mg daily.
Can It Hurt to Take Omega-3 Supplements Like Fish Oil?
It’s complicated. First, you need omega-3 fatty acids, as they are considered essential. Most people get enough from a proper diet. Therefore, it is technically unnecessary to take a fish oil supplement — a common source of omega-3s — if you are following a healthy diet and do not have any underlying medical conditions.
However, mounting evidence suggests that omega-3s have a larger role to play in arthritis treatment than we may think. According to the Mayo Clinic, fish oil supplements are generally safe to take but always check with your doctor or arthritis specialist before taking any supplement. Because Omega 3’s can thin the blood slightly as does most other anti-inflammatory treatments, Omega 3’s can interact with blood-thinning medications like Warfarin (Coumadin), Pradaxa, Eliquis, Xarelto and Lixiana. Be sure to stop taking Omega 3’s prior to any surgery or prior to a spinal injection for the same reason of increased risk of bleeding.
There Are Many Ways to Get Enough Omega-3s in Your Diet
Our recommendation? Talk to your doctor about the Meditteranean diet for arthritis. More of a lifestyle than a diet, the Meditteranean diet is based on the traditional cuisine enjoyed by people living around the Mediterranean Sea during the 20th century. It contains loads of different sources of naturally occurring omega-3s and omega-6s (another healthy fat).
If you don’t eat fish, you can still fight inflammation with foods. Check out our article on 13 foods that relieve joint inflammation to learn more.