The high omega-3 content of fish oil may help alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Fish oil is best known for containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. It has grown into a popular general health supplement, and may help with joints through:
- Alleviating rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil may relieve joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling by reducing inflammation.
Drawn from all kinds of fish, fish oil is generally considered an essential part of a healthy diet due to the bountiful supply of essential omega-3 fatty acids it provides for the human body. Omega-3’s actually come from the plankton and microalgae that fish love to munch on, and not from the fish itself.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which include alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) are considered essential to human health and cannot be made by the body. As such, fish oil supplements are proposed to have a wide range of health benefits that include:
- Reducing risk of cardiovascular disorders
- Supporting healthy vision
- Supporting brain health
- Reducing inflammation, especially in arthritis, asthma, and Raynaud’s
How Fish Oil May Help With Joint Health
Inflammation is one of the main causes of joint swelling, stiffness, and pain, especially in the context of rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil seems to reduce this inflammation through diminishing the production of inflammatory markers, such as leukotriene B4,1 as well as platelet activating factor, which is known to trigger inflammation.2
Fish Oil Benefits & Uses for Joint Health
- Provide relief from joint pain
- Reduce the number of tender joints4
- Reduce swelling
- Decrease the duration of joint stiffness in the morning
- Reducing the need to use anti-inflammatory medication5
- Improve mobility, strength, and control of joints
If you’re looking for an osteoarthritis supplement, however, glucosamine is a better option.
Clinical studies concerning fish oil and joint health are mostly focused on rheumatoid arthritis, which is characterized by chronic inflammation.
In this randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled crossover investigation, 16 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given either placebo or a fish oil supplement daily for 12 weeks. Fish oil was found to improve joint swelling and early morning stiffness. The researchers also noted reduced production of the inflammatory marker leucotriene B4.
- The study concluded that “dietary fish oil supplementation is effective in suppressing clinical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.”7
In this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind investigation, 43 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took either placebo or 10 grams of fish oil daily for 6 months. The fish oil group reported a significantly reduced need for anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDs, with improved arthritic activity after 3 months.
- The study concluded that “fish oil has small anti-inflammatory effects with at most a NSAID-saving potential.”8
In this randomized, double-blind investigation, 90 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took 2.6 grams of omega-3, 1.3 grams of omega-3 with 3 grams of olive oil, or 6 grams of olive oil for a 12-month period. Those in 2.6 g omega-3 group had significant improvement based on the patient’s global evaluation and the physician’s assessment of pain as well as a reduced need for anti-rheumatic medications.
- The study concluded that “daily supplementation with 2.6 gm of omega 3 results in significant clinical benefit and may reduce the need for concomitant antirheumatic medication.”9
In this randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind investigation, 50 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took either a placebo or 3 – 6 fish oil capsules at 40 mg per kg of bodyweight every day for 15 weeks. According to an analysis of clinical variables, the fish oil group was found to result in significant improvements in 9 symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- The study concluded 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.”10
In this prospective, double-blind, randomized investigation, 49 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took either a high dose of fish oil (54 mg/kg EPA and 36 mg/kg DHA), a low dose of fish oil (27 mg/kg EPA and 18 mg/kg DHA), or olive oil capsules (6.8 g of oleic acid) every day for 24 weeks. Compared to olive oil, fish oil led to significantly better improvements in tender joints, swollen joints, and inflammation, with best results reported in the high dose group.
- The study concluded that “significant improvements from baseline in the number of tender joints were noted…[and] the clinical benefits of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids are more commonly observed in patients consuming higher dosages of fish oil.”11
In this placebo-controlled, double-blind investigation, 67 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given either corn oil (group 1), fish oil containing 3.8 g EPA and 2 g DHA (group 2), or a combination of both (group 3) daily for 3 weeks. Group 2 was found to have a shorter duration of morning stiffness and a better global assessment by both the physician and patient compared to the other groups.
- The study concluded that “patients in Group 2 had improved with respect to duration of morning stiffness and global assessment by physician and patient…These effects might be ascribed to the dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.”12
In this review of 17 randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trials, supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) from fish oil was found to reduce joint pain intensity, duration of morning stiffness, amount of tender joints, and the use of anti-inflammatory medication.
- The study concluded that “omega-3 PUFAs are an attractive adjunctive treatment for joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and dysmenorrhea.”13
Dosage for Joint Health
- Research studies use doses from 1 – 10 g of omega-3 from fish oil daily
- Typical capsule or softgel supplements range from 1 – 3 g of Omega-3’s taken 2 – 3 times daily
- Fish oil supplements should be refrigerated and taken with meals
Supplements in Review Says
- Fish oil, 6 grams of Omega-3’s (3.8 g of EPA and 2 g of DHA), for joint health.
Fish oil seems to alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. We recommend omega-3-rich fish oil supplements as a natural way to support improvement in symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain, duration of morning stiffness, and tender joints.
Take standardized fish oil supplements carrying 6 grams of omega-3’s. We recommend taking fish supplements (drawn from cold Nordic sea fish, if possible) holding 6 grams of omega-3’s (3.8 g of EPA and 2 g of DHA).
- Cleland LG, French JK, et al. Clinical and biochemical effects of dietary fish oil supplements in rheumatoid arthritis. J Rheumatol. 1988 Oct;15(10):1471-5. ↩
- Sperling RI, Weinblatt M, et al. Effects of dietary supplementation with marine fish oil on leukocyte lipid mediator generation and function in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 1987 Sep;30(9):988-97. ↩
- Oh R. Practical applications of fish oil (Omega-3 fatty acids) in primary care. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005 Jan-Feb;18(1):28-36. ↩
- Fortin PR, Lew RA, et al. Validation of a meta-analysis: the effects of fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Epidemiol. 1995 Nov;48(11):1379-90. ↩
- Lau CS, Morey KD, et al. Effects of fish oil supplementation on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug requirement in patients with mild rheumatoid arthritis–a double-blind placebo controlled study. Br J Rheumatol. 1993 Nov;32(11):982-9. ↩
- Wong KW. Clinical efficacy of n-3 fatty acid supplementation in patients with asthma. J Am Diet Assoc 2005;105:98-105. ↩
- Van der Tempel H, Tulleken JE, et al. Effects of fish oil supplementation in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 1990 Feb;49(2):76-80. ↩
- Skoldstam L, Borjesson O, et al. Effect of six months of fish oil supplementation in stable rheumatoid arthritis. A double-blind, controlled study. Scand J Rheumatol. 1992;21(4):178-85. ↩
- Geusens P, Wouters C, et al. Long-term effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in active rheumatoid arthritis. A 12-month, double-blind, controlled study. Arthritis Rheum. 1994 Jun;37(6):824-9. ↩
- Volker D, Fitzgerald P, et al. Efficacy of fish oil concentrate in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. J Rheumatol. 2000 Oct;27(10):2343-6. ↩
- Kremer JM, Lawrence DA, et al. Dietary fish oil and olive oil supplementation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical and immunologic effects. Arthritis Rheum. 1990 Jun;33(6):810-20. ↩
- Kjeldsen-Kragh J, Lund JA, et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and naproxen treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. J Rheumatol. 1992 Oct;19(10):1531-6. ↩
- Goldberg RJ, Katz J. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain 2007;129:210-23. ↩