As the U.S. population ages, more people turn to fish oil for its many health benefits. Fish oil has replaced multivitamins as the most popular supplement among people who use multiple dietary supplements, according to a 2010 survey conducted by the independent testing lab, ConsumerLab.com. If you suffer from joint pain, you may have an extra incentive to add fish oil to your daily routine. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil function as natural anti-inflammatory agents, much like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but without their adverse side effects.
One out of every five American adults has arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis affects more than 70 percent of adults 55 to 78 years of age, reports the Cleveland Clinic. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers bones deteriorates, permitting bones to scrape against each other when you move. Rheumatoid arthritis afflicts people of any age. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial membrane in joints, destroying the lubricating tissues and causing mild to severe joint pain. Other conditions that can cause joint pain include fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, anklyosing spondylitis, lupus, gout, tendinitis, scleroderma and gout. In each of these conditions, different underlying disease processes trigger pain, but in each, a hyperactive, inflammatory immune system can significantly exacerbate the joint pain triggered by the condition.
Humans evolved consuming a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. However, the modern Western diet relies disproportionately on vegetable oils. Consequently, Americans tend to consume 15 or 16 times more omega-6 than omega-3. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete to bind at the same sites, so the excess of omega-6 reduces the effectiveness of the omega-3 fatty acids you consume. Omega-6 promotes inflammatory immune system reactions, while omega-3 enhances anti-inflammatory responses. Create a better balance by reducing omega-6 fatty acids or by increasing your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil.
Each underlying condition that contributes to joint pain may benefit from particular medications, foods, supplements and interventions. Generally, analgesics reduce pain and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, reduce inflammation, but these medications have potentially significant side effects. Inflammation is unhealthy, but NSAIDs can contribute to the deterioration of your cartilage, reports NewHope.com. Many people tend to reduce their physical activity as a means to manage joint pain. Unfortunately, that tact affects your quality of life and can quicken the course of your illness. Moderate exercise and activity usually enhances mobility, range of motion and, in the long run, reduces discomfort.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and fish oil supplements decrease inflammatory responses and offer other benefits. Fish oil lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, slows bone loss associated with osteoporosis, improves kidney function, lowers risk of stroke and can improve symptoms of ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It also reduces joint pain, according to a study published in the December 2005 “Arthritis & Rheumatism.” In this study, arthritis patients who took fish oil for eight weeks had lower ratings of arthritis and pain and reported less morning stiffness and fewer tender joints. In a study of fish oil as a replacement for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Joseph Maroon reports in the April 2006 “Surgical Neurology” that 60 percent of his patients reported improvement in joint pain and 88 percent intended to continue taking fish oil. Studies of joint pain typically give patients 3 to 5 mg of fish oil per day. It might take two to three months before you feel the anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oil, according to rheumatologist Leslie Cleland. Talk with your doctor before starting fish oil as it can interact with certain medications and health conditions.
- Arthritis Research and Therapy: Fish Oil -- What the Prescriber Needs to Know
- Arthritis and Rheumatism: Effects of High-Dose Fish Oil on Rheumatoid Arthritis After Stopping Nonsteroid Anti-inflammatory Drugs Clinical and Immune Correlates
- Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapie: The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
- HealthNewsDigest.com: File Oil Becomes Most Popular Dietary Supplement; ConsumerLab.com; February 1, 2010
- New Hope: Chronic Joint Pain
- Surgical Neurology: Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil) as an Anti-Inflammatory -- An Alternative to Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Discogenic Pain
- Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education: Osteoarthritis; William Wilke and John Carey
- Medline Plus: Fish Oil
- “Prescription for Nutritional Healing”; Phyllis Balch; 2006
- University of Maryland; Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.