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Pain Relief from Dietary Omega-3s

Pain Relief from Dietary Omega-3s

When comedian Joan Rivers commented on her emotional wounds and worries, the world laughed: “I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a radio.” Finding ways to ease pain is one of the strongest human impulses—and one of the hardest things to do successfully.

So it was great news when a recent study published in Arthritis Care & Research reported consumption of dietary omega-3s (but not supplements) eases pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers found that after taking an RA medication, methotrexate, for three months about 20 percent of study participants still had pain. A clear difference? Folks with persistent pain had measurably lower dietary intake of omega-3s.

When the dietary ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in polyunsaturated oils, such as corn, safflower and soybean, is skewed, as it is in the American diet (should be 1:1 but is 16:1) problems related to inflammation, such as pain, happen. Increasing dietary omega-3s helps restore a healthier balance. The researchers suggest that such pain-reliving benefits may happen because omega-3s boost production of resolvins (that’s the name!) that tamp down inflammatory immune responses and reduce nerve inflammation. Other studies also point to omega-3s’ pain-relieving powers (including from supplements).

So if you have chronic pain, increase your weekly consumption of fish, such as salmon or sea trout; they’re loaded with DHA and EPA omega-3s. And go for plant sources that contain ALA omega-3: flax and chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, canola oil, avocados and pumpkin seeds.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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