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Which Oil Supplements Work For Rheumatoid Arthritis... And Which Don't!

Feb 1, 2008
"Your food shall be your remedy. Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food..."

These words were uttered by Hippocrates.

With all the emphasis on natural remedies currently, one area of great interest is the use of food-based oils to help with different disease processes, particularly arthritis.

Most American diets are high in oils called omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) which eventually are broken down to arachodonic acid, which is a cornerstone of inflammation...obviously, not something that is desirable.

So if that's the bad oil, what are the good ones?

One good oil is omega-3 which helps to reduce inflammation. Another good fatty acid is gamma linoleic acid or GLA. So... to get the best effect, one should try to reduce the amount of omega 6 and increase the amount of both omega-3 and gamma linoleic acid.

Fish oil is the source of omega-3 fatty acid that has been studied most carefully. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing the risk of cardiovascular events as well as reducing the inflammation that accompanies rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Fish oil is available as both a liquid or as a softgel capsule. The typical daily dose is 3 grams per day of EPA/DHA, the active ingredients in fish oil.

If you would like to get your dose of fish oil naturally, you can eat the following types of fish: salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel. Omega-3 is abundant in cold water fish.

Another good oil that contains high amounts of GLA is evening primrose oil. Another good source of GLA is borage seed oil. These preparations have been shown to help with the symptoms of RA. Dosage for RA is 1.8 grams of GLA per day.

Another oil that increases the amounts of EPA is flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil can be used in salad dressings. Flaxseed flour can be used to make baked products.

When purchasing products it's important to read the labels carefully. The packaging should be in opaque containers. Try to get high potency capsules.

Also, be wary of potential side effects. Fish oil and GLA can thin the blood. This is particularly a problem in patients who are taking non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), blood thinners like Coumadin, or other herbal remedies such as ginger which can thin the blood also.

Be patient. It takes at least three months before you will notice a benefit.

Some patients do develop gastrointestinal side-effects such as gas or heart burn. Also, burps will have a fishy smell. Fish oil can also be excreted with sweat so that you may smell like the local seafood market.

Do not use these oils as your only therapy for RA. It's important to realize that these oils are complementary (used in addition to) conventional medications.

In addition to the above advice, try lowering the amount red meat you eat. Red meat is high in ingredients that promote the inflammatory process.

One word of caution. Because omega-3 supplements are available without prescription, they are not covered by insurance... so beware.
About the Author
Nathan Wei, MD FACP FACR is a rheumatologist and Director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. For more info: Arthritis Treatment
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