ALBANY, NEW YORK. Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to involve an overactivity of certain inflammatory agents derived from arachidonic acid. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the main components of fish oils, are known to inhibit the formation of these inflammatory agents. Research has shown that fish oil supplementation is beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of several inflammatory diseases.
Researchers at the Albany Medical College and the State University of New York now report that fish oils are quite effective in relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Their study involved 33 arthritis patients (25 women and 8 men) aged between 23 and 74 years who had suffered from arthritis for more than 3 years. Half the patients were assigned to supplement daily with 15 fish oil capsules (containing a total of 2.7 grams EPA and 1.8 grams DHA) while the other half received 15 placebo capsules every day (containing olive oil). After 14 weeks of supplementation and a 4-week wash-out period during which everyone took placebo capsules the group on fish oil switched to placebos and vice versa for a further 14 weeks. After 14 weeks on fish oil there was a very noticeable decrease in the average number of tender joints among the patients (from 9 to 5.5) and a 2.5-hour increase in the time to the first onset of fatigue after getting up in the morning. Although not statistically significant a trend to a shorter duration of morning stiffness and fewer swollen joints were also observed.
The researchers conclude that fish oil supplementation relieves arthritis symptoms, but point out that at least 12 weeks of ingestion is required before the benefits are felt.
Kremer, Joel M., et al. Fish-oil fatty acid supplementation in active rheumatoid arthritis: A double-blinded, controlled, crossover study. Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 106, April 1987, pp. 497-503