Dealing With Arthritis? This Nutrient Helps Reduce Swelling & Joint Pain
Whether you're running a marathon or walking up the stairs, your joints work hard to help you move. The only problem? Joints tend to become stiffer over time, making them less flexible as we age. It also doesn't help that today's desk culture limits our daily movement, which is crucial for happy joints.
What's more, approximately 53 million Americans1 over 18 (that's 23% of the U.S. adult population) have arthritis and other rheumatic conditions, per Arthritis & Rheumatology.
Fortunately, in addition to staying active and eating a balanced diet, prioritizing your omega-3 fatty acid intake can help maintain joint mobility and even help reduce arthritis-associated joint pain. Learn how these healthy fats provide 360-degree support for your joints.
What are omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are an impressive group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The plant-sourced omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is an essential fat. This means the body can't make it endogenously, so you need to get it regularly via food (and supplements can help too).
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are marine-derived (i.e., fish, shellfish, or algae) omega-3 fats. Your body can synthesize EPA and DHA from ALA, but there's a catch: The conversion rate is inefficient2, meaning it's not a reliable process for achieving optimal omega-3 levels. The more effective option is to consume EPA and DHA from foods—specifically, fatty fish like anchovies, salmon, and herring—and fish oil supplements.
4 ways omega-3s help with arthritis
Omega-3s have been extensively studied for their vast roles in the body—including heart health, brain function, and eye wellness, just to name a few.
As it turns out, the beneficial properties of omega-3s also play a major role in our joints’ flexibility and overall functioning. In fact, increasing omega-3 intake has been shown to reduce arthritis risk and even attentuate arthritis symptoms. Here’s how these healthy fats can support your joint health:
Deliver anti-inflammatory properties
According to collective science and highlighted in a 2019 scientific review from Nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids help regulate anti-inflammatory pathways3 and mediate the production of key cytokines (i.e., pro-inflammatory signaling compounds). These actions support a healthier anti-inflammatory response and resolution. This is key, as joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in arthritis patients are caused by inflammation.
Modulate oxidant vs. antioxidant balance
Detailed in a 2019 scientific review in Pharmacological Research, omega-3 fatty acids also have antioxidant abilities4. The ability to combat oxidative stress lends further support to the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats, as well as overall joint function. Additionally, some research5 has even shown that antioxidants can significantly improve disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients.
Reduce joint pain, immobility & discomfort
As omega-3 fats exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions, they also promote joint comfort and mobility by reducing pain, stiffness, and soft tissue swelling. This helps support longevity and independence as you age (since having mobile joints will allow you to move with ease) and also helps ease joint discomfort associated with arthritis.
In a 2020 Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology review, scientists analyzed a number of clinical studies that found that increasing omega-3 intake helped reduce morning stiffness, tenderness, and swelling6 of joints in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Researchers hypothesize that these healthy fats may help modulate the autoimmune response, and can therefore be used to help manage RA symptoms.
Bolster healthy blood flow
Omega-3s are known for their effect on heart health, and for good reason too! These fats help regulate blood pressure and promote healthy levels of triglycerides, ultimately helping to maintain cardiometabolic health. This translates to healthy blood flow and circulation, which sends nutrients and oxygen to the joints, helps decrease inflammation, and promotes overall mobility and comfort.
How to get more omega-3s in your diet
To increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, start by adding two servings of fatty fish to your weekly menu. If eating seafood isn't your style or you simply want a reliable, concentrated dose of daily omega-3s, you can also take advantage of a high-quality fish oil supplement to enjoy the EPA plus DHA equivalent of a fish each day (in a far more convenient way).
If you’re looking for a premium fish oil, you can check out mindbodygreen’s favorite omega-3 supplements here.
Other ways to support healthy joints
In addition to increasing your omega-3 fatty acids (via fatty fish and high-quality omega-3 supplements), eating plenty of unprocessed plant-based whole foods (think fruits, vegetables, and nuts) also bolsters healthy joints. These eats are teeming with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, which further promote overall joint health.
It's also important to incorporate a combo of low-impact exercises and gentle stretching into your routine when possible. Low-impact activities—such as walking, swimming, and casual cycling—are vital for retaining joint flexibility. Meanwhile, gentle stretching can maintain your range of motion and promote top-notch joint mobility.
Thanks to their impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions in the body, omega-3 fatty acids are a daily essential for joint mobility and comfort—especially in arthritis patients.
Whether you have RA symptoms already or are hoping to keep them at bay as you age, increasing your daily omega-3 intake can help reduce inflammation, increase your antioxidant activity, and help ensure your joints are feeling supple and mobile from morning to night!
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.