Using Omega 3 fatty acids as part of an arthritis management strategy

Arthritis can be a pernicious and debilitating disease, and the fear of arthritis can freeze the heart of people as they grow older. Because arthritis is a condition that affects older people.

So let’s look a little at arthritis and see whether there is any evidence that Omega 3 fish oil can help relieve it. Let’s consider what arthritis is first.

There are in fact many different forms of arthritis, in fact there are over 100. However the 2 most common forms of arthritis, and the types that you might be more familiar with are called Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis.

In both cases an underlying cause is inflammation in the joint.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that primarily attacks the joints in your body, though can also occur in other parts of the body. This form is more common in women than men and generally occurs in older people after the age of 40, though not always. It can be extremely painful and for many people can lead to a serious loss of mobility.Fish Oil for Arthritis

Whilst Rheumatoid Arthritis can affect most of the joints in the body it is more common in the hands and feet and the spine.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is more common than Rheumatoid Arthritis, and can also occur in many of the moving joints in the body, often starting in the spine, though often seriously affecting the hands and feet and hips and knees. Osteoarthritis can eat away the cartilages in joints and eventually lead to bone on bone friction, which is obviously painful.

Anyone who suspects they may be developing arthritis is well advised to consult a medical professional as soon as possible. It is not currently possible to cure arthritis, and medical intervention is more for management than cure. There are some very effective management strategies..

However it is well known that as arthritis is an inflammatory condition anti-inflammatories, in other words substances which help combat inflammation in the body, can be successful as part of an overall management strategy.

Omega 3 fats for Arthritis management

Of course there are various anti-inflammatory drugs. However all of these come with some form of side-effects, often serious. On the other hand the essential fatty acids known as the Omega 3 fats, found primarily in fish oil, are also well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, being very effective at reducing inflammation in the body.

There are also excellent non drug solutions to arthritis, and adding more Omega 3 to your diet should be a big part of that.

There are very few, if any, side-effects from taking more Omega 3 in your diet, and none of the side-effects are serious. For this reason many medical professionals are now suggesting that as part of an overall anti-arthritic strategy arthritis patients should be taking Omega 3 supplements.

If you have arthritis and are considering taking Omega 3 supplements you should consult your doctor for advice on incorporating Omega 3 supplements into an overall management strategy.

However as well as for helping reduce the symptoms of arthritis there are many other health benefits from increasing your intake of Omega 3 fish oil. Almost every month new research comes out about this new “miracle drug” called Omega 3, except that it’s not a drug at all. It’s not manufactured in a laboratory, it comes from the oil of fish.

In fact whether or not you have arthritis there are many other health conditions which may be positively benefited from increasing your intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids.

If you’re getting older there are some very powerful reasons to consider increasing your intake of Omega 3. For example there is now solid evidence that more Omega 3 in the diet may help prevent macular degeneration in older people, and macular degeneration is the single biggest cause of blindness in older people. The author has personal experience of macular degeneration, having seen a friend go blind within the last few years for this exact reason. No amount of Omega 3 will help her now, it’s too late.

So if you’re getting older and are worried about arthritis, particularly if you have some symptoms like joint pain, visit your doctor and talk to them about increasing your intake of Omega 3. There’s powerful reasons to do so.

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You’re pregnant and want to take fish oil. Pregnancy though, may be different.

It’s a common question. Should you take fish oil during pregnancy? Of course if you’re pregnant you’ve got 2 to think of before you decide to take Omega 3 supplements. Pregnancy is a special condition for this reason.

The first thing to say always when talking about fish oil in pregnancy is to see your doctor. There’s all sorts of considerations that may be particular to you, and a doctor knows about those considerations. We can only talk about Omega 3 during pregnancy from a general perspective, not specifically in relation to you.

There’s a 2 different questions to ask here. Is fish oil safe during pregnancy? And are there benefits to taking fish oil during pregnancy? Because there’s no reason to take it even if it’s safe if there’s no benefits.

Question number 1. Is fish oil safe during pregnancy?

There is no clear evidence of any risks from taking fish oil in pregnancy, other than the regular, though very limited, side effects. These are, as long as you take no more than the recommended dosage, the risk of some reflux or “fishy burps”, perhaps some temporary stomach upset and perhaps a fishy taste in the mouth. These are rare, not dangerous and usually go away.Omega 3 Pregnancy

For people with some specific medical conditions there is a slightly more elevated risk, particularly of some bleeding, so if you have a particular medical condition then you should, as we always say, consult your doctor. In fact all pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking any supplements.

There are even people who look for pregnancy safe fish oil supplements, but these are not necessary and we don’t know of any Omega 3 supplements with a particular formulation to be “pregnancy safe”. All should be safe.

That’s the answer. No evidence of any particular risks to taking Omega 3 during pregnancy. Except………..

The government issues warnings about pregnant women eating too much fish, because there are some concerns about toxic contamination of fish. And some fish oil supplements HAVE been found to contain concerning amounts of contamination, coming, presumably, from contaminated fish, as you will see from that article.

However the very best fish oil supplements are entirely clean, as evidenced by their Certificate of Analysis (ie chemical analysis of the fish oil). And it”s updated for each batch of fish oil they use, so is up to date all the time.

Not many fish oil capsule manufacturers put an independent Certificate of Analysis on their website. I wonder why?

Question number 2. Is it beneficial to take fish oil supplements during pregnancy?

This is really 2 questions. Is it beneficial to the mother, and is it beneficial to the baby?

Yes it should be beneficial to the mother because there is so much evidence of the benefits of Omega 3 to the health. We’ve gone into them elsewhere on our site. But what about the baby?

Like all these things it’s hard to say what is proven and what is not. There are plenty of studies showing benefits of fish oil supplementation to developing babies, but at what point are those benefits proven? Hard to say.

Lets look at what some of the studies say. Firstly in relation to fetal brain development. The brain is made up of a large percentage of fat, and a large percentage of that fat is DHA, an Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in fish and fish oil supplements.

As the fetus develops it needs essential fatty acids to do so, including to develop it’s brain. These are not made in the body, and so are only available from the food that the mother eats. If she eats plenty of good Omega 3 rich fish then the fetus may get enough. Is she doesn’t it may not.

Studies have concluded that there are benefits to the brain development of the fetal brain. This results, according to some studies, in improvements in childhood coordination including hand/eye coordination, as well as improvements in mental acuity, comprehension and vocabulary.

Other studies have shown that children with ADHD had less DHA in their systems than those without. But whether this comes from pregnancy or later isn’t clear.

And studies have also shown that children of mothers who took fish oil pregnancy had better sleep patterns as infants.

It is thought that the third trimester is the most important time for taking fish oil in pregnancy, as this is when the brain is developing the most. It has been found that preterm infants have low levels of DHA because they have not gone full term so had all the benefits of the last 3 months of brain development and build up of brain DHA. So this suggests also that Omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy should not be just confined to the third trimester but should be undertaken right through pregnancy.

And there are also studies showing that low Omega 3 levels in pregnancy can lead to premature births and low birth weights.

Overall there is very strong evidence of the benefits of Omega 3 supplements in pregnancy. As we say it’s hard to say when it’s fully proven, but the evidence is very strong.
Fish Oil Pregnancy

We conclude with a quote from an article in the New Scientist (Feb 07)

“children whose mothers ate the least amount of seafood during pregnancy showed the worst performance on tests of social development and verbal IQ”

Should you get your Omega 3 fats from fish or from supplements?

There’s plenty of government warnings against eating too much fish generally, but particularly during pregnancy, because of the toxins now found in fish, like mercury. That’s not to say eat no fish, but the only safe way to get daily DHA and other Omega 3 fats in pregnancy is to take the best fish oil supplements money can buy.

Note that not all fish oil supplements are the same, read our article about comparing Omega 3 supplements to find out more.

NOTE 1

What we’ve discussed here isn’t all, though it’s getting pretty long. Here’s a list of some of the other benefits of fish oil pregnancy that have been suggested by the studies. These are benefits to the mother, not the baby.

1. Lower risk of postpartum depression.

2. Reduced risk of breast cancer.

3. Lower risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

4. Reduced risk of a cesarean birth.

NOTE 2

1. One other important point to make is this. One of the most important factors in the development of infants is breast feeding. The infant gets his DHA, once born, through his food. So through mothers milk. If the mother is deficient in DHA this will result in less to the infant, good reasons to take fish oil supplements after pregnancy.

2. When referring to fish oil supplements we are not referring to cod liver oil. There are specific issues associated with excess vitamin A in cod liver oil and it is not generally recommended for this reason.

In our view there is clear evidence for the benefits of fish oil. Pregnancy is no different, except that there are 2 people getting the benefits, the mother, and the soon to be infant.

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Low Omega 3 levels ages your brain faster.

We’ve said it before but there’s no harm in saying it again. There is a growing body of evidence linking increased intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are primarily DHA and EPA, to better brain health. Once again more evidence emerges.

For instance we’ve talked about the link between Omega 3 fats, commonly found in fish oil, and memory loss.

And we’ve talked about the effect of Omega 3 on your mood, cognitive ability, psychological problems such as depression, a reduced risk of dementia and even in helping reduce alcohol cravings.

Again, at the end of February 2012, more evidence emerges supporting the conclusion that low levels of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA can have a negative effect on your brain health.

In a new study researchers examined 1575 people with an average age of 67 who were free of dementia, and in particular analysed the levels of DHA and EPA in their blood.Omega 3 and brain health

The subjects were given a range of tests to measure brain function and memory, including brain imaging and psychological assessments.

What was discovered was that participants in the study who had the lowest levels of Omega 3 had smaller brain volumes and a poorer cognitive performance. They performed poorer on tests measuring memory and thinking, and worse than those who exhibited a higher levels of Omega 3 in the blood.

In effect what they have found is that people with lower levels of Omega 3 in the blood seem to have a faster rate of brain ageing which translates into poorer cognitive performance and memory.

The specific conclusion of the study was that “Lower RBC DHA levels are associated with smaller brain volumes and a “vascular” pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.”

The evidence mounts up of a link between Omega 3 and brain health, or conversely between low levels of Omega 3 intake and poorer brain health.

What is not entirely clear is how long you need to increase your Omega 3 intake before there is some positive effect on your brain health, and of course this is an important factor. The study did not examine this.

However whether or not you’re concerned about improving your brain health there are so many other powerful reasons for including more Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Improved brain health may simply be one of them, there are so many others.

Whether you want to reduce your risk of macular degeneration as you get older, reduce your risk of dying from heart attack, help improve your likely outcome from arthritis treatment, help reduce symptoms of depression, improve your skin or have a better outcome in any one of a wide range of health conditions, (which you can see listed on the right for your reading) it seems there are powerful reasons to increase the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet.

Of course you can do so by eating more fish, though more people choose simply to take Omega 3 supplements for a number of reasons. And if you want you can find out more about how we have determined which Omega 3 supplements to take for ourselves in our article about finding the best Omega 3 supplements.

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Low birthweight babies can develop Ischemic Heart Disease in later life

As part of our commitment to writing his website we like to stay up to date with the latest news about Omega 3 fatty acids, and to examine some of the latest studies which have been published.

Often we find that new studies published on the role of Omega 3 in health tend to confirm some of the older studies, so often it is not new news, though is certainly encouraging. For example there have been studies recently confirming the importance of Omega 3 in good eye health, on which we have reported before.

But a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of paediatrics in February 2012 examines an area that we have not seen examined before.

In this study, undertaken at the University of Sydney in Australia, the role of Omega 3 fatty acids in helping reduce the risk of Ischemic Heart Disease in people who were born very small, was studied.

Babies who are born small, particularly within the bottom 10th percentile birthweights, tend to have a greater risk of developing Ischemic Heart Disease in later life.Low birthweight babies and Omega 3

In the study it was observed that “Impaired fetal growth is an independent cardiovascular risk factor and is associated with arterial wall thickening in children.” In other words low birthweight babies suffer from increased risk of cardiovascular disease resulting from thickening of the arterial walls from early atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fat on the walls of the arteries and the hardening of the arteries.

The study sought to determine whether or not supplementation with Omega 3 supplements would help reduce the increased risk of Ischemic Heart Disease.

In the study 616 children who are already taking part in an asthma prevention study were given, variously, a 500 mg fish oil supplement from the start of bottlefeeding, together with canola-based margarine and cooking oil, up until the age of 5.

The second group did not receive the fish oil supplements, but received a 500 mg sunflower oil supplement together with margarine high in Omega 6 fatty acids and cooking oil.

At the age of 8 all of the children were tested for thickening of the arterial walls. This early thickening is an indicator of subsequent cardiovascular disease.

Of those who did not receive the Omega 3 fish oil supplements, the children with low birthweights still demonstrated thickening of the arteries. This was not the case for those who were given the Omega 3 fish oil supplements.

The study concluded that “The inverse association of fetal growth with arterial wall thickness in childhood can be prevented by dietary Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation over the first 5 years of life.” However it was also observed that, as is usually the case, further study was also warranted to confirm the findings.

This is the first time that we have seen a study examining the effects of Omega 3 fish oil supplementation on children with small birthweights, and the first time we have seen evidence that those children may help reduce the risk of Ischemic Heart Disease later in life by Omega 3 supplementation early in life.

Where subsequent studies become available examining this particular health issue which bring them to you.

 

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