Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their ability to reduce inflammation, and those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may consider including them in their management plan for this (and other reasons). Increasing your omega-3 intake may help relieve pain and stiffness, and protect your joints from damage—a cornerstone goal of every RA treatment regimen.
The most common sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish oil and flaxseed, which contain different types of omega-3. While you can get them through food, omega-3s are also available in supplement form.
The role of Omega-3s
Omega-3 is a powerful fatty acid that deserves attention for its use in helping to address many health problems.
For RA, omega-3s can:
- Reduce inflammation: Inflammation of the lining of the joint (a tissue called the synovium) is a hallmark of RA. Since omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the body’s production of inflammatory chemicals, omega-3 intake could theoretically help suppress this inflammation and prevent joint damage.
- Affects immune activity: RA is classified as an autoimmune disease when the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium. Omega-3 fatty acids may help regulate the immune response and prevent flare-ups.
- Helps reduce the risk of comorbidities: Some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may improve heart health. RA is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, so careful management of cardiovascular risk factors is important.
A 2020 literature review of omega-3 use in RA concluded that these fatty acids may be beneficial for people with the disease because they regulate the immune system and block the effects of inflammation. Adding the supplement to the participants’ treatment regimen reduced the number of painful, swollen joints, the researchers said.
A 2017 paper also noted that fish oil supplementation appears to be a beneficial part of an RA regimen, noting a number of effects on the immune system and the inflammatory cycle.
A 2012 report found that RA patients who took omega-3 supplements tended to see small improvements in symptoms such as swelling and stiffness, as well as overall physical function. These participants were also less likely to be taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a class of drugs commonly used to relieve pain in rheumatoid arthritis.
Risks of taking omega-3s if you have rheumatoid arthritis
While research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are probably safe for most people in doses between 2.5 and 5 grams, There are concerns that high doses may interfere with blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding.
RA can cause clotting problems due to abnormal platelet levels, Therefore, you may want to ask your healthcare provider whether blood tests should be performed before or while you are taking omega-3s.
Omega-3 supplements also carry other risks — as well as mild, usually tolerable side effects like nausea — unrelated to RA you should consider.An important concern is the possibility of high-dose drug interactions, which is worth noting if you are struggling to manage RA and Another condition, such as diabetes.
Learn about the side effects of using fish oil supplements
Omega-3 in Food
Omega-3 fatty acids come in many forms, depending on the source.
Fish oil is rich in two forms of omega-3:
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Meanwhile, flaxseeds are rich in a third type, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
You may be able to get some omega-3 fatty acids through your diet without trying. In addition to small amounts of EPA and DHA, most people in the United States get enough ALA from food, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. (No recommended daily doses have been established for EPA and DHA.)
Foods that provide omega-3 include:
- Fish and other seafood, especially cold-water fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring)
- nuts and seeds, especially flax, chia, and walnuts
- Vegetable oils, including linseed and soybean oils
- fortified foods, including some yogurts, juices, milk, soy drinks, and eggs
If you want to make sure you’re getting a consistent amount of omega-3s, supplements are a great way to do this.
You can find many different formulas on the market, including some that contain only fish oil, only flaxseed, or a combination of the two. Some supplements also include omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.
Some people find that fish oil supplements give them a fishy taste in the mouth, heartburn or nausea. If these are an issue for you, switching to flaxseed supplements or focusing on dietary sources may help.
Health Benefits of Omega-3s
Other health benefits
In addition to helping treat rheumatoid arthritis and preventing cardiovascular disease, omega-3 fatty acids appear to have several other health benefits, including:
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Relieve symptoms of irritable bowel disease
- Relieves symptoms of multiple sclerosis
Omega-3s have been studied to treat many other conditions, including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Alzheimer’s disease. So far, the results have been mixed.
Common comorbidities in patients with rheumatoid arthritis
While omega-3s are generally considered healthy additions to your diet, don’t start taking them with medication without consulting your healthcare provider. This can help you avoid potential negative interactions with the drug and make sure your dose and source are safe.
Since rheumatoid arthritis can lead to serious health problems, including severe joint damage and disability, it is important to work closely with your doctor to manage this condition rather than trying to replace it with omega-3 fatty acids or any other form of Drugs to treat the disease on their own.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation?
Yes. Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation by helping to slow the production of inflammatory compounds. This helps reduce inflammation in people with inflammatory arthritis.
Do omega-3 fatty acids help relieve joint pain?
Yes. Taking omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce joint pain, tenderness and stiffness over time. Many people with joint pain find that they need to take less NSAIDs when taking omega-3 supplements. However, reported joint pain relief is not always consistent, and it may take weeks of continued use to find any relief.
Does fish oil interact with any arthritis medications?
No, fish oil and omega-3 fatty acid supplements will not interact with any arthritis medications. However, before taking any new supplements, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis – Effective