Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain?

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes:

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common, debilitating condition, that has a different etiology or cause than the more common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.  Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease in which the immune system causes inflammation and attacks the joints.  Systemic means that it cause inflammation organs throughout the body–not only inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues.  In fact, rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1% of the population–with women being affected 3x more commonly than men.  Further, rheumatoid arthritis can be a common cause of disability.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms:

  1. fatigue
  2. loss of appetite
  3. low-grade fever
  4. muscle and joint aches and stiffness
    1. worse in morning
    2. symmetrical pattern
    3. involvement of multiple joints
    4. hands and wrist joints often involved
  5. swollen, tender, and red joints
  6. chronic inflammation can damage cartilage and bones
  7. Sjogren’s syndrome – dry eyes and mouth due to glandular inflammation
  8. chest pain from rheumatoid inflammation of the lungs
  9. Felty’s syndrome – involving an enlarged spleen and a decreased white blood cell count with a resultant increased risk of infecitons
  10. pericarditis – inflammation of tissue surrounding the heart which can cause chest pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment:

For the many suffers of rheumatoid arthritis pain, NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often used to treat the pain associated with it.  NSAIDs have potentially serious side effects including, but not limited to gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system.  The results of a recent study published in the journal, Rheumatology, suggests that cod liver oil containing omega 3-fatty acids, may help people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis to reduce their consumption of NSAIDS in the management of their rheumatoid arthritis pain (Galaraga et al, 2008).

Natural Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Additionally, a recent meta-analysis assessing the pain relieving effects of omega-3 PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) consisted of 17 randomized controlled trials involving  in patients with rheumatoid arthritis concluded the following:

“The results suggest that omega-3 PUFAs are an attractive adjunctive treatment for joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and dysmenorrhea.”

Specifically, Omega-3 Fatty Acid Consumption Lowered:

  1. patient assessed pain
  2. physician assessed pain
  3. duration of morning stiffness
  4. number of painful and/or tender joints
  5. Ritchie articular index
  6. nonselective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug consumption

References:

  1. Galarraga B, Ho M, Youssef HM, Hill A, McMahon H, Hall C, Ogston S, Nuki G, Belch JJ. Cod liver oil (n-3 fatty acids) as an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008 May;47(5):665-9. Epub 2008 Mar 24
  2. Goldberg RJ, Katz J. A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain. 2007 May;129(1-2):210-23. Epub 2007 Mar 1.

4 thoughts on “Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain?

  1. Great article, really enjoyed it and learned somthing new will be applying it to my regime from now on. aka 23inchguns

  2. Thank you Max, tashabud, and Laurie for your comments. Tashabud, to clarify Doctor’s already commonly prescribe NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication for RA. Omega-3 fatty acids seem to be an additional important treatment option for people who suffer from RA to discuss with their physicians.

  3. Great article – really interesting stuff. Do you rate joint supplements like glucosamine – opinion seems really divided over their effectiveness?

    1. Hi Phil,

      I think that there’s reasonably compelling evidence to support the use of glucosamine supplements for those with osteoathritis. In contrast, there’s certainly less evidence for its use in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. As well, there are different types of glucosamine and most of the studies suggest using glucosamine sulfate rather than glucosamine hydrocholoride or n-acetyl glucosamine.

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