Can Eating Fish Save Your Joints?

Medically reviewed in April 2020

You may know that adding fish to your diet is good for your heart. But new research suggests that eating fatty fish could also help protect you from getting rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Experts at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden collected diet questionnaires from 32,000 women and then tracked them over eight years. The researchers found that women who ate fish just once a week lowered their risk for RA by 29%.

The benefits seem to be due to omega-3 fatty acids, which are most abundant in fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Women whose diets averaged at least 0.21 grams of omega-3s per day -- that’s equivalent to just one serving a week of these fish, or four servings of leaner fish, like cod -- had a 52%-lower risk of RA. For comparison, three ounces of cooked salmon contains 1.9 grams of omega-3s. The study didn’t look at fish oil supplements, and it isn’t known whether they lower risk, as well.

Past studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation -- and inflammation is at the heart of RA. The condition occurs when the immune system attacks joint tissues, leading to chronic inflammation and pain, heat, swelling and stiffness. About 1.3 million Americans have RA, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Women are three times more likely than men to develop it, and smoking adds to the risk.

Note that the study doesn’t yet prove that eating fish prevents RA -- and in fact, there are no proven ways to ward off the disease. But since fish is good for you in so many ways, adding a grilled salmon dinner once a week is a great place to start.

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