How effective are fish oil supplements for treating arthritis?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and help prevent arthritis. The benefits from fish oil come primarily from two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Talk to your doctor for more information about the benefits of consuming fish oil.

Fish oil supplements, which are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, may help in reducing pain and inflammation of stiff joints in some people with arthritis—sometimes making drugs unnecessary. Fish oils are also obtained in the diet by eating fish like mackerel, salmon, herring and tuna.

Fish oil supplements, especially DHA (you can get it from algae if you do not like fish oils), seem to directly improve osteoarthritis symptoms, but more data is needed for us to be absolutely sure. But since it has so many benefits and no known side effects (save allergies or burping), we’d say try it and see if it works for you.

Now some claims that big doses of fish oil (omega-3 fatty acid, our favorite fat) help osteoarthritis are, well, fishy. (The ones about its heart and brain benefits are not!) No studies have been done to definitively show that fish oil helps arthritis symptoms. There is one clear way fish oil or DHA can help arthritis, though (at least indirectly). Eating a Mediterranean diet is a healthy way to maintain or reach an ideal weight. That’s a big help for preventing arthritis and ensuring it doesn’t get worse. The diet includes a lot of omega-3s nuts. Your joints, heart and brain will all thank you.

Dr. Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

In certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Raynaud's phenomenon, fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce symptoms to an extent similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but without their side effects. These results may or may not be generalized to osteoarthritis, but it would seem reasonable that they would help the inflammation of osteoarthritis, as well as that of other inflammatory joint conditions.

Research also tends to indicate that fish oil supplements help with a variety of other ailments, including decreasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and depression.

The Arthritis Handbook: Improve Your Health and Manage the Pain of Osteoarthritis (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

More About this Book

The Arthritis Handbook: Improve Your Health and Manage the Pain of Osteoarthritis (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

According to conventional wisdom, arthritis pain is an inevitable part of aging. Not so, says Dr. Grant Cooper in this practical, accessible guide. For those who do develop osteoarthritic conditions,...

Continue Learning about Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements

Whether you're visiting the drug store, grocery or natural food shop you'll likely find an aisle where there are jars and bottles of things for you to put in your body that are neither foods nor medicines. Ranging from vitamins an...

d minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.