Medical News Today: Benefits of fish oil for arthritis

Cod liver oil is traditionally believed to be healthful for people’s bones. But could cod liver oil and other fish oils play a role in the treatment of arthritis?

Arthritis is a common condition that affects 1 in every 5 adults in the United States and is a leading cause of disability. Arthritis affects people’s joints, either through inflammation or through cartilage degeneration.

This article explores whether fish oil could be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis and how to use it.

Does fish oil help arthritis?

fish oil capsule and fish
Fish oil and cod liver oil contain properties that may reduce inflammation.

There are two common types of arthritis, both of which can cause joint pain, stiffness, and mobility problems. These are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): An inflammatory joint disease caused by a problem in the immune system.

  • Osteoarthritis (OA): A degenerative condition that affects joint cartilage and bones.

Cod liver oil and fish oil contain high levels of two types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Researchers have found that EPA and DHA both reduce inflammation.

The role of fatty acids in reducing inflammation suggests that they may help treat RA. Researchers have also investigated whether fish oil may play a role in the treatment of OA. This research is also explored here.

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Omega-3s and arthritic inflammation

A 2012 review looked at previous studies into the benefits of fish oil for arthritis treatment. In particular, it explored the role of EPA and DHA in reducing joint swelling and pain.

The review found that there was consistent evidence that EPA and DHA from marine sources had a positive effect on joint swelling and pain. It also found that these omega-3 fatty acids helped to improve morning stiffness in the joints, another symptom of RA.

A study in 2016 found that daily supplementation with omega-3 had such a positive effect on RA that it reduced the need for analgesic medication. Analgesics are a type of pain-killing medication that is used to reduce arthritis pain.

Fish oil and osteoarthritis

According to a 2015 review of the current scientific evidence, a number of animal trials suggest that fish oil shows promise as a treatment for OA.

However, the review concluded that further studies were needed to say with certainty whether fish oil is an effective treatment for OA in humans.

Other conditions omega-3s may help

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, fish oil may also help in the treatment of other inflammatory conditions, including:

Fish oil may also help reduce certain fats that are found in the bloodstream and lower a person’s blood pressure. It has also been found to work well alongside anti-depressants in the treatment of depression.

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How to use a fish oil supplement

Mackerel is one of the fishes used in fish oil
Fish oil is made from oily fish including salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

The best way to get essential omega-3s is by eating cold-water oily fish. Supplements can be taken but are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for quality or purity.

Fish oil is a dietary supplement made from oily fish, including:

  • mackerel

  • tuna

  • herring

  • salmon

  • cod liver

It also contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including:

  • iron

  • calcium

  • vitamins B, A, and D

Fish oil is different from cod liver oil, which contains oil from pressed cod livers only. Cod liver oil contains much higher quantities of vitamins A and D than fish oil. These vitamins are usually healthful but can be harmful if consumed in large quantities.

People taking fish oil or cod liver oil for arthritis need large amounts of it to gain enough omega-3 fatty acids for them to be beneficial. As such, fish oil is a better source of omega-3 than cod liver oil, as people can consume large doses without taking in harmful levels of vitamins A and D.

Fish oil supplements can be taken as:

  • capsules

  • pastilles

  • chewable tablets

  • liquid

For both RA and OA, the Arthritis Foundation recommends taking up to 2.6 grams, twice daily. It is important to find a version of the supplement that contains at least 30 percent of the active ingredients EPA and DHA to get the most benefit.

Other fish to eat for arthritis

baked mackerel in a pan
Mackerel is considered a good source of omega-3.

Rather than taking fish oil, some people may prefer to include plenty of fish in their diet. This is another way of getting plenty of omega-3 to help with arthritis.

Good sources of omega-3 include:

  • salmon

  • tuna

  • sardines

  • mackerel

According to the Arthritis Foundation, eating a 3-6 ounce serving of one of these fish between two and four times every week helps reduce inflammation and protect the heart.

It is important that people consider the mercury content of fish they eat, as consuming too much mercury is not healthful.

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Arthritis can be painful and may lead to mobility problems. Following a doctor’s treatment plan can help people manage arthritis pain and reduce the risk of complications.

Fish oil may be beneficial in the treatment of arthritis by reducing inflammation in the joints. While the positive effects of fish oil on RA are well supported by scientific evidence, further research is needed to prove that it improves symptoms of OA.

Fish oil may interact with some anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat arthritis, so it is important for people to discuss taking it with their doctor first.

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