Does fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids have any beneficial effect on arthritis pain? With all the other benefits being claimed for it, fish oil seems like it would help. But is there any scientific evidence? And is so, why does it confer these benefits?
One study, published in Feb 21, 2005 in Nutrition, found that taking fish oil omega-3 fatty acids
“relieved several clinical parameters used in the present study. However, patients showed a more precocious and accentuated improvement when fish oil supplements were used in combination with olive oil.”
The study tracked improvements in joint pain intensity, handgrip strength, duration of morning stiffness, ability to bend down to pick up clothing from the floor, and other clinical indicators after both 12 and 24 weeks, and compared them to a control group receiving a placebo.
The researchers, at the University of Newcastle in Australia, concluded that that
“fish oil supplementation that delivers (n-3) fatty acids at a dose of 40 mg/kg body weight/day, with dietary (n-6) fatty acid intake < 10 g/day in the background diet, results in substantial cellular incorporation of (n-3) fatty acids and improvements in clinical status in patients with RA.”
A similar study done in 1990 at Albany Medical College, looked at olive oil vs. low-dose fish oil vs. high-dose fish oil supplementation for 49 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.
They found that 5 of 45 clinical measures were significantly improved from a baseline in the olive oil supplemented group, 8 of 45 measures improved in the low-dose fish oil group, and 21 of 45 in the high-dose fish oil group were improved during the 24 week study.
The high dose supplementation was 54 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, per kg body weight and 36 mg/kg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This suggests that anyone taking fish oil for arthritis needs to take higher amounts than what is usually recommended, if they want to get any relief.
There have been numerous other studies along the same lines, all showing some benefits. The improvements in symptoms are due to some kind of anti-inflammatory mechanism.
We know that both omega-3 and omega-6 are converted in the body to molecules called prostaglandins, which have numerous beneficial effects, such as reducing inflammation, inhibition of blood clotting, and maintaining various regulatory states in the body.
A class of fatty compounds discovered in 2002, that our bodies make from eicosapentaenoic acid, called resolvins, may make clear how omega-3 gives its anti-inflammatory effects.
See the study: Resolvins : A Family of Bioactive Products of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Transformation Circuits Initiated by Aspirin Treatment that Counter Proinflammation Signals
Resolvins have been shown to reduce cellular inflammation by inhibiting the production and transportation of inflammatory cells and chemicals to the sites of inflammation. They are produced by the COX-2 pathway especially in the presence of aspirin. This suggests that diet supplementation with fish oil may work better when combined with low aspirin doses.
Of course, more evidence is needed, but as far as a replacement for Vioxx, fish oil and omega-3 could be a serious contender.
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