What Is It About Fish Oil That Makes It Special?
In Australia fish oil is one of the most commonly consumed supplements on the market and research suggests that taking fish oil can reduce inflammation and the morning stiffness associated with inflammatory arthritic conditions. Arthritic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus as well as helping control symptoms of osteoarthritis a condition commonly treated by physiotherapists. In some cases of arthritis long-term use of the supplement has been shown to reduce the reliance on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This is significant as reducing dependence on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help decrease an individuals risk of developing any of the many side effects associated with taking these types of pharmaceutical medicines.
What Are Fish Oils And How Do They Work To Reduce Symptoms Of Arthritis?
Fish oil is simply the fat or oil that’s extracted from fish tissue. These oils contain a specific type of fat called omega-3. As humans our bodies cannot produce omega-3 fats meaning we must obtain them from our diet and fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. This includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decoxahexaenoic acid (DHA) and these fatty acids block inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins; they are converted by the body into powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals called resolvins. Through this action consuming EPA and DHA fatty acids may help to relieve joint pain and stiffness in a similar way to NSAIDs.
- Studies show that EPA and DHA decrease several inflammatory markers
- EPA and DHA also increase some anti-inflammatory markers
- EPA and DHA inhibit the expression of various proteins that contribute to osteoarthritis
- Omega 3 fatty acids decrease symptoms of morning stiffness, tender or swollen joints and joint pain
- Omega 3 fatty acids can also help increase blood flood during exercise
Where Do You Find Omega-3 Fats?
Omega-3 fats are mostly found in oily fish as well as also being found in certain nut and seed oils.
- Cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, halibut and cod
- Flaxseed (linseed) and canola oil. However research suggests that these oils are not as active against inflammation as fish oils are which are found to have greater health benefits than the omega-3s found in these plant sources.
- Margarines and other such foods fortified with omega-3
- Fish oil supplements
How Much Omega-3 Fat Supplements Should You Take For Arthritis
Studies suggest 2.7 grams of omega-3 daily is required to reduce inflammation. This is quite a substantial amount, so much so that as a result it is unlikely you can obtain enough omega-3 fats from your diet alone to reduce inflammation without the use of fish oil (omega-3) supplements. Noting that the dose taken to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis and improve arthritic symptoms is significantly higher than the dose recommended for consumption to obtain many of the other listed general health benefits of taking omega-3 supplements.
This 2.7 grams quantity to reduce inflammation is the equivalent to taking daily supplement doses of:
- 9-14 standard 1000mg capsules, or
- 5-7 capsules of a concentrate, or
- 15mL of bottled fish oil, or
- 5-7 mL of concentrated bottled fish oil
How Long Does It Take Before You Notice Results?
The above dose should be taken consistently for approximately 2-3 months and if there is no improvement despite this then it may be that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may not be effective in your specific condition, or at this specific stage of your condition. With my patients who are suffering with long term arthritic conditions like knee osteoarthritis (OA) or hip OA two very common arthritic conditions we see in our Randwick and Sydney physio practices who rely on either time to time NSAIDs or consistent use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs I will sometimes suggests they continue this pharmaceutical approach as they go through their “loading” phase with their omega-3 supplements and then ideally are able some months down the track to reduce some of the dependence they have on NSAIDs.
What Are The Risks Of taking High Doses Of Fish Oil?
Worth noting is that fish oil is different to fish liver oil such as cod liver oils. Fish liver oils contain vitamin A and when taken in large amounts vitamin A can be dangerous (particularly so during pregnancy). If looking to increase your omega-3 fats it is safer to do this by taking pure fish oil supplements rather than taking fish liver oils. As with all supplements it is important to always inform your doctor and discuss with them your plan prior to starting taking any supplements (or over the counter medicines). And taking high doses of omega-3 fatty supplements is no exception to this rule. Interactions these supplements can have with certain medical conditions or existing prescribed medications is more complicated than the majority of physiotherapists or laypersons will understand, and is especially so if you are taking blood thinners, or for females who are pregnant or those hoping to conceive.