Rheumatoid Arthritis and Omega 3: Is there a link?

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. It predominantly targets the bone, cartilage and synovial tissues (Connecting tissues). However, it is not only in the joints, it can effect the lungs, heart and eyes and is known as symmetrical arthritis, so if it effects the left hand, there is a good chance it will effect the right hand too.

What are the signs and symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The symptoms can actually vary from person to person and can come and go. The sympstoms can develop over weeks or even days, again it varies from person to person. But the main symptoms are:
- Pain and swelling; the most significant symptom - first it is caused by the inflammation in the joints, and later the pain can be as a result of damage to the joints
- Stiffness of the joints; can last for several hours if the right medication is not taken. A 'gelling' of the joints can happen, and this makes them difficult to move from a position. (Can happen when you sleep or sit for a long time)
- Fatigue; this could be due to anaemia (Low haemoglobin in the blood) but also due to inflammation and pain levels
- Flu like symptoms; fever and muscle pains in the early days, before or during diagnosis
- Feeling low/depressed; the effect on the body can lower a persons mood

How common is it?
Around 400,000 adults have rheumatoid arthritis in the UK and it is more common in women than in men at a ratio of 3:1.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of the major causes of sickness and absence and unemployment and is estimated to cost around £1.8 billion per year.

What is Omega 3?
Omega 3 fatty acids come in different forms that are important for health.
Eicosapentaenoic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid are long chain fatty acids that are usually called 'Marine fatty acids'. The omega 3 from this fatty acid interferes with immune cells - leukocytes and cyotkines, which both play a part in the inflammatory response of the body.
There are no RDA levels for omega 3, however, the general advice is to consume two portions of oily fish per week.

What is the research to link Rheumatoid Arthritis and Omega 3? 
This study looked at the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, from fish oils, as an anti-inflammatory tool instead of their drugs. 250 people took part, who suffered from chronic neck and back pain (due to inflammation). They took 1200mg of fish oils per day. The results should that 95% of people discontinued taking their medication for thepain with 60% of these stating that their joint pain had improved.
(Maroon JC and Bost JW, 2006)

This study observed the effects of that omega 3 can have on disease activity in patients with Rheumatoid arthritis who take traditional medicines. 60 people (49 female and 11 male) took part in this 12 week double blind, randomised and placebo controlled study. The results showed a significant improvement in the patients who consumed omega 3, resulting in them being able to reduce their medication.
(Rajaei E, et al, 2016) 

Another study examined the OPG and OPGL (molecules that bind together and can lead to bone erosion) levels in the body and how omega 3 reacts to this. 83 females with rheumatoid arthritis took part in this double blind study. Half of these were treated with omega 3 and half with placebo, but they all continued to consume their conventional drugs alongside. The results showed a change in the levels of OPG and OPGL levels, consequentally showing a potential protection against bone loss.
(Alizadeh, et al, 2011)

This study assessed the effects of omega 3 on rheumatoid arthritis patients. They analysed 10 different randomised controlled trials, involving 183 patients and 187 placebo patients. They were given, on average, 2.7g of omega 4 oils to take per day for 3 months. The results showed that omega 3 clearly reduced the need for the patients medication and it eased some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
(Lee Y, et al, 2012)

What are the sources of Omega 3?
If you're looking for good sources of Omega 3, then the following fish sources are good:

  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna (Fresh or Frozen)
  • Swordfish 
In regards to fish, because it is the main source of omega 3, you should ensure that you buy sustainable sources where possible because the fish stocks are rapidly declining. Aim to eat two portions of this per week. 

However if you are a vegan or you simply do not like fish then you should eat some of the following foods to make sure you get a good amount of omega 3:
  • Nuts and Seeds (Walnuts, Pumpkin seeds etc) 
  • Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed, Linseed) 
  • Soy Products (Milk, Beans, Tofu) 
  • Green Leafy Vegetables 

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