Omega-3 fatty Acids and Osteoarthritis 

Date:  Nov. 4, 2011

as posted in NCSF Health and Fitness News



New research published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage has shown for the first time that omega-3 fatty acids (FAs) from either fish or flax oil could significantly reduce the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). Omega-3-rich diets fed to guinea pigs (which naturally develop OA) in the recent study appeared to reduce the prevalence of disease by 50% when compared to a standard diet. The investigation is considered a major step towards demonstrating the use of omega-3 FAs for slowing down the progression of OA as well as improving overall joint health. OA affects over 27 million US adults; approximately 13.9% of adults aged 25 and older and 33.6% of those over 65. It is characterized by degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint which eventually leads to pain and joint stiffness. The joints most commonly affected include the knees, hips, and those in the hands and spine. Currently there is no known cure or effective treatment to slow progression of the disease. Treatment is limited to pain relief via medication and/or lifestyle changes and therapy to improve function. Surgery or even joint replacement is occasionally warranted. Lead researcher, Dr. John Tarlton, from the Matrix Biology Research group at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences stated that the classic initial signs of OA such as degradation of cartilage collagen and loss of molecules that provide its shock-absorbing properties were both reduced with omega-3 supplementation. “Furthermore, there was strong evidence that omega-3 influences the biochemistry of the disease, and therefore not only helps prevent disease, but also slows its progression, potentially controlling established osteoarthritis,” he explained. He goes on to explain that the effects of omega-3 FAs on OA should be directly examined with humans in further studies to develop conclusive evidence, but OA in guinea pigs is the most appropriate model for spontaneous, naturally occurring OA and the development of supporting evidence for use in human disease.

Further important considerations:

  • • It appears that fish oil is far more effective than a flax oil based supplement, but for strict vegetarians flax is still a viable alternative
  • • Most diets in the developing world are lacking in omega-3 FAs
  • • Modern diets commonly have up to 30 times too much omega-6 and too little omega-3

The researchers suggest that omega-3 supplementation can address the aforementioned deficiencies and the imbalance seen with modern diets and can positively contribute to a range of other health problems such as heart disease and colitis.



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