It's increasingly common for people with rheumatoid arthritis to turn to natural remedies such as omega 3 fatty acids to manage their condition. One of the main goals of treating rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce inflammation which targets the joints and may affect internal organs and increase risk of conditions such as heart disease. There's a growing body of evidence that indicates omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can provide some relief to people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Several chemicals in the body are involved in the inflammatory process, including prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and cytokines. Many modern arthritis medications, such as anti-rheumatic disease-modifying drugs and biologics, are designed to combat the actions of these chemicals in rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, they often have serious side effects.

The promise of natural remedies such as omega 3 fatty acids is that they are less harsh on the body, while reducing some of the nasty symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis including joint swelling, joint pain, and inflammation levels in the body. There are two main omega 3 fatty acids that exist abundantly in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, albacore tuna and mackerel--eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), several studies indicate that omega 3 fatty acids can relieve some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, although you may take a while to see improvement and these healthy fats do not stop the progress of the disease.

In some studies, patients who took omega 3 fatty acids experienced statistically significant improvements in joint tenderness and morning stiffness. Research also shows quite consistently that people who take omega 3 fatty acids do not need to take as many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids, which reduces the health problems they may have as a result of taking these drugs. 

However, in assessing nine studies on the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on rheumatoid arthritis, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that these nutrients had no effect on patient report of pain, swollen joint count, Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), and patient's global assessment of their health status.

But, the impact on pain is up for debate. The University of Maryland Medical Center noted that an analysis of 17 randomized, controlled clinical trials assessing the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on pain relief in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, or joint pain caused by other inflammatory conditions found that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation was effective along with conventional therapies, such as anti-inflammatory drugs. The fact that patients also need to take less pain-relief medications such as NSAIDs seem to confirm the benefits of these essential fats in relieving pain as well - either directly or indirectly.

Safety of Supplementing Omega 3 Fatty Acids for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The healthiest way to get omega 3 fatty acids to relieve rheumatoid arthritis is through eating fatty fish such as salmon, trout or tuna. Dr. Jason Theodosakis, author of The Arthritis Cure states that eating as little as one ounce of fish per day, or two fish meals a week, can help reduce inflammation.

While most people in America may prefer to get their daily dose of omega 3 fatty acids from supplements, these may inhibit blood clotting and increase the risk of stroke, especially if you take them with aspirin or other NSAIDs, warns the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. You may also suffer from diarrhea or stomach problems. And the NCCAM warns that fish oil supplements can also interact with high blood pressure medications.

The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center agrees with Theodosakis that it's a healthier option to eat more fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids to relieve rheumatoid arthritis. However, limit your weekly intake to about 14 ounces and eat a variety to lower your exposure to mercury levels in these fish. If you're pregnant, stick to 12 ounces of fish with the lowest levels of mercury, which the Food and Drug Administration indicate include herring, salmon and flounder.