Fish oil for arthritis: benefits and uses

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People traditionally take cod liver oil to improve their bone health, and some use it for osteoarthritis. But does it help?

Arthritis is a very common disease and a major cause of disability.

There are two common types. Both of these can cause joint pain, inflammation, stiffness, and other problems that limit mobility.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory joint disease caused by a problem with the immune system.
  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease in which the articular cartilage wears out and causes bone damage.

This article examines whether fish oil can help treat arthritis and provides professional guidance on how to use it.

It’s worth noting from the start that the American College of Rheumatology and Arthritis Foundation don’t recommend the use of fish oil for OA because there isn’t enough evidence that it is beneficial.

Cod liver oil and fish oil contain a high proportion of two omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Research – like the studies cited below – shows that both EPA and DHA can reduce inflammation. The role of fatty acids in reducing inflammation suggests that they can help treat RA and OA.

Fish oil and RA

A 2012 review looked at previous research into the benefits of fish oil in treating RA. In particular, the role of EPA and DHA in reducing joint swelling and pain has been studied.

The review found evidence that marine-source EPA and DHA provided consistent but modest help in improving the following aspects of RA:

  • Joint swelling and pain
  • Morning stiffness in the joints
  • Disease activity
  • the use of pain relievers

According to a 2016 study, people with active RA who took omega-3 supplements daily could take less pain medication. However, the authors note that this finding may only apply to people living in hot climates.

Fish oil and OA

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

However, the authors acknowledge that confirmation of this in humans will require further research.

In one study, scientists found improvements in pain and function after two years of use, and low dosages appeared to be at least as effective as high dosages. After 1 year there was no significant improvement.

Current guidelines do not recommend the use of fish oil for OA as there is no evidence that it is effective in humans.

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can help fight a number of conditions with inflammatory characteristics. Some of these conditions that go beyond RA include:

The most effective way to get omega-3 essential fatty acids is by eating oily fish with cold water. Supplements are available, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor them for quality or purity.

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

  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • herring
  • salmon
  • Cod, but specifically the liver

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

Fish oil supplements are available as:

  • Capsules
  • Lozenges
  • Chewable tablets
  • liquid

For people with RA, the Arthritis Foundation recommends taking up to 2.6 grams twice a day.

The supplement should contain at least 30% of the active ingredients EPA and DHA for maximum benefit.

Cod liver oil or fish oil?

Fish oil is different from cod liver oil.

Cod liver oil only contains oil from pressed cod livers. It contains higher amounts of vitamins A and D than fish oil. The body needs these vitamins, but they can be harmful if people consume them in large quantities.

People who take fish oil or cod liver oil for arthritis must consume large amounts to get the benefits.

Because of this, fish oil is a healthier source of omega-3 fatty acids than cod liver oil because people can consume large amounts without ingesting too much vitamins A and D.

Instead of taking fish oil supplements, a person may prefer to include lots of fish in their diet.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • salmon
  • tuna
  • Sardines
  • mackerel

According to the Arthritis Foundation, eating 3 to 6 ounces of a variety of fish between two to four times a week helps reduce inflammation and protect the heart.

When buying fish, keep the following points in mind:

  • Is it likely that the fish is high in mercury? Check here.
  • Is it from a sustainable source? Check here.

Arthritis can be painful and limit a person’s mobility. A doctor can develop, monitor, and adjust a treatment plan to relieve pain and reduce the risk of complications.

Fish oil can help treat RA by reducing inflammation in the joints. More research is needed to confirm whether the oil improves symptoms of OA.

Fish oil can interact with some anti-inflammatory drugs. Hence, it is important to speak to a doctor first before using it.

Fish oil supplements can be bought online.

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