You’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids, especially if you have an inflammatory type of arthritis. They help reduce inflammation throughout the body, and some studies have shown benefits for heart health, brain function and diabetes.
There are two major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. One type is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the other type is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), fish oil (EPA and DHA) is the most commonly used dietary supplement in the United States. A study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease in 2013, found that when a high-dose fish oil supplement is added to so-called triple therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (methotrexate, sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine), patients achieved better outcomes: they were far less likely to “fail” treatment and twice as likely to reach remission than those who did not take a supplement.
According to the results of at least 13 studies involving more than 500 participants, people with rheumatoid arthritis who took omega-3s supplements had a reduction in joint pain – but not in joint damage. Other studies suggest that omega-3s may help RA patients lower their dose of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). And according to information from NIH, administering fish oil by IV reduces swollen and tender joints in people with RA.
Until somewhat recently, no one really knew what made omega-3s so beneficial. Researchers, however, believe they have uncovered the secret of omega-3 fatty acids. A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston revealed that omega-3s actually convert into compounds that are 10,000 times more powerful than original fatty acids. So what does this mean to us? These compounds include resolvins, which help bring an inflammatory response in the body to an end, says the study’s lead researcher, Charles Serhan, PhD, director, Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury at Harvard Medical School, Boston.
In a healthy immune system, the normal inflammatory process repairs damage and protects the body from infections. But in inflammatory types of arthritis and related diseases, an overactive immune response leads to tissue destruction. Serhan’s research showed that the same pathway that signals the start of inflammation also includes an off switch. Omega-3s convert into these more powerful compounds, putting the brakes on this active process and causing it to screech to a halt, says Serhan. What is not yet known is how much omega-3s are needed to optimize the body’s conversion from omega-3s into resolvins, says Serhan.
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