Eating more omega-3-rich food may lower inflammation and arthritis pain

Making simple dietary changes can greatly improve your health. Eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fewer foods high in omega-6 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and arthritis pain, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain.

For the study, researchers assessed 167 adults with knee arthritis. They took blood samples from each participant and categorized the samples according to the blood’s ratio levels of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. After that, the researchers compared knee pain and function among people who had relatively high ratio levels of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids and relatively low ratio levels of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids.

The results revealed that people who had a relatively high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids experienced more knee arthritis pain, worse knee function, and more stress, compared to those with a relatively low omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids should be consumed than those that contain omega-6 fatty acids. (Related: Scientists closer to unraveling the mystery of how omega-3 fatty acids halt inflammation and prevent disease throughout the body.)

The difference between omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids

While both omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are essential to the body, they have different effects on the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to reduced inflammation, which is why foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are commonly part of an anti-inflammatory diet. Foods that contain this fatty acid include eggs, flaxseed, salmon, as well as leafy green vegetables like spinach.

On the other hand, omega-6 fatty acids are linked to increased inflammation. You can get omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils, such as sunflower, corn, and canola oils, as well as in meats, such as chicken, pork, and beef.

Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids both need the same enzyme for bodily digestion and absorption. Health experts believe that these two essential fatty acids compete with each other for absorption. This means that even though you eat enough omega-3 foods, the omega-6 foods may cancel out the omega-3s during digestion. This, in turn, may cause you to not fully reap the complete anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. The key to reducing inflammation and knee pain is to lower the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.

Fast facts on arthritis

Arthritis is a very common condition, but it isn’t fully understood yet. It is not a single disease, but a way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. While there are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions, the most common symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. These symptoms may come and go and can be mild, moderate, or severe. They may progress to severe arthritis, which causes chronic pain, inability to do daily activities, and makes it hard to walk or climb stairs. Arthritis can cause permanent joint changes, which may be visible, such as knobby finger joints. However, often the damage can only be seen on x-ray. In the U.S., arthritis is the leading cause of disability. It affects more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children. It is most common among women and occurs more often as people get older.

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