As with many health-related concerns, optimal nutrition is one of the best ways to help manage joint pain. Some of the most effective nutrients for painful joints are omega 3 fatty acids.
What Are Omega 3s?
Omega 3s are a group of fatty acids that play important roles in the functioning of your body. They’re essential, meaning that the body can’t make them and they have to be consumed from food.1
The three main types of omega 3 fats include alpha linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid, (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are primarily found in seafood, animal products, and algae, while ALA is found in plant foods.2
Your body converts ALA to EPA and DHA in order to make it usable, but the conversion is not effective, so it’s best to incorporate all three types of omega 3 fats into your diet from a variety of sources.
How Omega 3s Help Joint Pain
The main reason omega 3 fats can be therapeutic for joint pain and arthritis is because they have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
DHA and EPA actually block the activity of substances called cytokines and prostaglandins, which promote inflammation. Additionally, EPA and DHA create anti-inflammatory byproducts called resolvins. All of these things work together to reduce inflammation, and related pain, throughout your body.3
Some studies show that, for some people, omega 3 fats can be so effective at reducing joint pain that they can replace certain pain medications, like ibuprofen and other NSAIDs.4,5 Other studies show a lesser impact on rheumatoid arthritis, but still suggest that omega 3 fats could be used in conjunction to standard therapies to reduce pain.6,7
Omega 3 Food Sources
Omega 3 fats can be found in many foods. Some of the best sources include fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as plant foods like walnuts, soybeans, and ground flax seeds. DHA and EPA can be found in fish oil or algal oil supplements.
Omega 3 Recommendations for Joint Pain
There is no set standard for how many omega 3 fatty acids you should get per day.
However, a good place to start is to try incorporating a variety of omega 3 foods into your diet on a regular basis. This could mean adding 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to a smoothie or yogurt, sprinkling walnuts on a salad or into oatmeal, or baking salmon once or twice a week.
Most nutrition professionals agree that a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day is a good recommendation for healthy adults.8,9 For certain conditions, such as arthritis, more may be therapeutic.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, fish oil capsules with at least 30 percent EPA/DHA are recommended for arthritis-related conditions. For lupus, a dose of around 2 grams of EPA/DHA three times per day is suggested. For rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, up to 2.6 grams EPA/DHA is suggested.10
It’s important to note that your intake of omega 6 fats, which are pro-inflammatory, can inhibit the effectiveness of the omega 3 fats at reducing inflammation.
Omega 6 is found in many foods that are popular on the modern Western diet, like processed seed and vegetable oils. As a result, most of us are eating many more omega 6 fats than recommended, and not enough omega 3s. This is resulting in worsened inflammation just from the foods we eat.11
The good news is that making some small changes to your regular fat sources can make a big difference when it comes to reducing inflammation in your body. One easy way to do this is to add omega 3-rich All Day Energy Greens to your routine!
Yours in Health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian
- Spector AA, Kim HY. Discovery of essential fatty acids. J Lipid Res. 2015 Jan;56(1):11-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25339684
- Gammone MA, Riccioni G, Parrinello G, D’Orazio N. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and Endpoints in Sport. Nutrients. 2019 Jan; 11(1):46. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6357022/
- Calder PC. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes. Nutrients. 2010 Mar; 2(3): 355–374. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257651/
- Rajaei E, Mowla K, & Ghorbani A, et al. The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Patients With Active Rheumatoid Arthritis Receiving DMARDs Therapy: Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. Glob J Health Sci. 2016 Jul; 8(7): 18–25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4965662/
- Maroon JC & Bost JW. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006 Apr;65(4):326-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187
- Senftleber NK, Nielsen SM, & Andersen JR et al. Marine Oil Supplements for Arthritis Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. Nutrients. 2017 Jan; 9(1): 42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295086/
- Mirtaheri E, Gargari BP, & Kolahi S, et al. Effects of Alpha-Lipoic Acid Supplementation on Inflammatory Biomarkers and Matrix Metalloproteinase-3 in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(4):310-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25751300
- Interim Summary of Conclusions and Dietary Recommendations on Total Fat & Fatty Acids. From the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition, 10-14. Nov 2008, WHO, Geneva. https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/FFA_summary_rec_conclusion.pdf?ua=1
- Scientific Opinion on the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). 2012 July, EFSA Journal. https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2815
- The Arthritis Foundation. Fish Oil. https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/supplements-herbs/guide/fish-oil.php
- Simopoulos AP. Evolutionary aspects of diet, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and genetic variation: nutritional implications for chronic diseases. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2006 Nov;60(9):502-507. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332206002435