Arthritis: A Role for Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements

Research has been growing over the past several years which demonstrates that inflammation anywhere in the body contributes to a number of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, mood disorders, diabetes, obesity, etc.

The topic of this article is “What role does omega-3 fatty acids play in both the prevention and treatment of arthritis?”*

First of all, let’s talk about terminology for a moment; arthritis means “inflammation of the joints.” There are two broad categories of arthritis, one is that of the “wear and tear” variety, termed osteoarthritis, and the other is “inflammatory” arthritis, common examples of which include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and a variety of autoimmune conditions. However, all arthritic conditions involve inflammation.

There is a growing scientific consensus that inflammation anywhere in the body is often aggravated by the consumption of excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids like those found in many plant oils and processed foods made with the same and the relative deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids like those found in cold water fish.

To test the theory that altering the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids studies have been conducted whereby patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a particularly painful and frequently disfiguring form of arthritis, were put on a diet low in omega-6 fatty acids, especially those high in arachidonic fatty acids and also given omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.

Patients benefited significantly from such an approach by either minimizing omega-6 fatty acids or increasing omega-3 fatty acids. The best results were achieved by strict adherence to the low omega-6 diet and the supplemented omega-3s.

Researchers were able to demonstrate exactly how DHA alleviates the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. It turns out that DHA is converted in the body to a substance called “Resolvin D2.” This substance in turn causes white blood cells to become less sticky to the cell wall, minimizing the harmful effects of inflammation. These results are very interesting in that almost all other anti-inflammatory medicines interfere with inflammation by actually compromising the immune system. That is the primary reason this category of drugs causes so many side effects.

During my 25-year career, I suggest omega-3 fatty acids along with a good multivitamin to many of my patients. Such a combination helps to reduce the risks of many chronic diseases, especially those with a significant inflammatory component.

*Spite et al. Resolvin D2 is a potent regulator of leukocytes and controls microbial sepsis. Nature, 2009; 461 (7268): 1287 DOI: 10.1038/nature08541