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Omega-3 supplements 'could offer osteoarthritis treatment benefits'

Published on 11 July 2014
Omega-3 supplements 'could offer osteoarthritis treatment benefits'

Scientists in the US have determined that omega-3 consumption could help to improve the joint health of patients with osteoarthritis.

Carried out by Duke University in North Carolina, the study - published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases - has shed further light on the established relationship between obesity and arthritis, suggesting that unhealthy dietary fats may exacerbate osteoarthritis symptoms.

The team examined a sample of mice with osteoarthritis of the knee caused by injury to the joint, all of whom were fed one of three high-fat diets - one rich in saturated fat, one high on omega-6 fatty acids, and one that supplemented a high omega-6 intake with a small amount of omega-3.

It was found that arthritis was significantly associated with the mice's diets, but not with body weight - a noteworthy development, given that it is often understood that the impact of obesity on arthritis is caused by the additional pressure on load-bearing joints.

The mice that ate diets high in saturated fat or omega-6 fatty acids experienced significant worsening of their arthritis, while mice consuming supplements of omega-3 had healthier joints.

Moreover, those receiving omega-3 had an enhanced capability to heal wounds, further underlining the health benefits of this form of fatty acid.

Dr Farshid Guilak, professor of orthopaedic research at the Duke University Medical Center, said: "Our results suggest that dietary factors play a more significant role than mechanical factors in the link between obesity and osteoarthritis."

Saturated fat generally comes from animal sources and is known to raise cholesterol levels, while omega-6 is found in corn oil, soybean oil, nuts and seeds. Omega-3, meanwhile, can commonly be found in fish or fish oil supplements and is recognised for offering heart health and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK said: “Research is increasingly confirming that omega-3 fatty acids sourced from fish oil can slow the progression of osteoarthritis in animal models, and that the benefits of fish oil for joint health are not simply old wives' tales.

"Most diets in the developed world are lacking in omega-3, with modern diets having up to 30 times too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. Taking omega-3 could help redress this imbalance. However, we now need studies that confirm that it can also be effective in humans."

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