Fish Oil for Arthritis and Joint Pain: Can It Help?

The omega-3 in fish oil may block some sources of inflammation

Several studies suggest that fish oil can be beneficial for people who have arthritis. For example, in one study, fish oil reduced arthritis-associated joint pain. Further research examining the effects of fish oil on the joints is ongoing.

Fish oil is known to help your health in several ways, such as supporting cardiovascular health, brain health, and eye health. This has been attributed to the omega-3 in fish oil, which may block some sources of inflammation.

Studies have shown that fish oil reduces inflammation in the body, decreases morning stiffness, and helps individuals who have psoriasis, lupus, and different types of arthritis.

This article discusses the benefits fish oil's omega-3 fatty acids can have on arthritis and joint pain. It also explains the different types of fish oil supplements, the proper dosage, and potential side effects.

Fish oil supplements

 ma-k/Getty Images

What Is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is a nutritional supplement derived from oil of fatty fish, such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, and tuna, or the liver of other fish, such as cod. In addition to being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil is also high vitamins A and D.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are compounds found in oily fish, including sardines and salmon, that fight inflammation associated with joint pain. It's also found in flaxseed and in dietary supplements.

Fatty acids that are high in omega-3 include:

  • Eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

EPA and DHA are the two fatty acids that may be beneficial for people with arthritis. You can get omega-3 fatty acids from food, soft gels, tablets, liquid, or capsules.

Krill Oil vs. Fish Oil

Fish oil and krill oil are two different types of omega-3–rich supplements. While fish oil comes from fish, krill oil comes from tiny crustaceans similar to shrimp known as Antarctic krill.

There are some differences between krill and fish oil:

  • Krill oil has a reddish color due to the antioxidant astaxanthin
  • Fish oil is golden in color

Fish Oil and Arthritis

Some types of arthritis involve inflammation in the body, which can be eased by the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Studies show the fatty acids in fish oil can partially inhibit a number of aspects of inflammation.

The body doesn’t naturally produce omega-3 fatty acids, so this nutrient must be obtained through diet and/or supplements. The main fatty acids that are known to help with inflammation are EPA and DHA, which can be obtained by eating fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, and tuna.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the joints in the wrists, knees, and hands, causing damage to the joint lining. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the effect of the autoimmune inflammatory response in patients with RA, resulting in clinical improvements in the condition.

Clinical trials showed that omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial role in RA. More research needs to be conducted to evaluate the long-term effects of omega-3 on people with RA.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. More common with aging, osteoarthritis occurs when tissues in the joints start to break down over time.

Studies suggest that EPA and DHA in fish oils reduce inflammation and increase joint lubrication, and more studies and human clinical trials need to be conducted to determine whether or not fish oil is beneficial to people with OA.

Studies have found that fish oil could relieve pain in older OA patients who are obese.

Gout

Gout is an inflammatory type of arthritis that affects one or more joints. Most common in the big toe joint, symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and heat. The condition occurs due to excessive uric acid deposition in the joint.

In one study, patients with gout who consumed omega-3 and adjusted their intake of certain foods (high fructose corn syrup, organ meat, alcohol, seafood) that are known to raise uric acid levels had a lower risk of recurring gout flares. When omega-3 was taken alone, there was no reduction. More research needs to be conducted to determine whether fish oils specifically help people with gout.

Dosage

You can get the benefits of fish oils through foods and supplements. The reference daily intake (RDI) of omega-3 fatty acids is 1,600 for men and 1,100 for women. The RDI for EPA and DHA is 200 mg to 500 mg.

What to Look for in a Fish Oil Supplement

It is recommended to look for supplements that have a seal of purity from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). Discuss options with your healthcare professional.

Risks and Side Effects

The risks, side effects, and overdose symptoms include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Bad breath
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Heartburn
  • Nosebleeds
  • Insomnia
  • Vitamin A toxicity

Who Should Not Take Fish Oil

Fish oils are also known to increase blood sugar levels, so individuals with diabetes should contact their healthcare provider to discuss proper options.

Fish oils are known to potentially interact with some medications. Contact your healthcare provider to discuss the potential interaction of medications and fish oil supplements.

A Word From Verywell

Fish oil can be a beneficial addition to your overall health. It is important to speak with your healthcare provider before adding any supplement, vitamin, or mineral to your diet. They can give you the proper recommendations regarding the type of fish oil and the doses that will support your health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between fish oil and cod liver oil?

    Cod liver oil is a fish oil, but one that specifically comes from the livers of codfish. Cod liver oil and fish oil have similar taste and nutrition profiles, but cod liver oil contains more vitamins A and D.


  • How much fish oil should I take for arthritis?

    Studies showing fish oil to be beneficial for people with arthritis and joint pain used 10 grams of fish oil a day. If you have joint pain, do not exceed the dose listed on the supplement label without first talking to your healthcare provider.

  • Can I take fish oil and omega-3 supplements?

    No, you should not take omega-3 supplements if you are also taking fish oil, krill oil, or cod liver oil. Doing so can cause you to consume excessive doses of omega-3s, which has been linked to an increase in side effects and possibly lower immune function.

Was this page helpful?
16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Senftleber NK, Nielsen SM, Andersen JR, et al. Marine oil supplements for arthritis pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trialsNutrients. 2017;9(1):42. doi:10.3390/nu9010042

  2. The Arthritis Foundation. Fish oil.

  3. Akbar, Umair BS; Yang, Melissa BS; Kurian, Divya BS; Mohan, Chandra MD, PhD. Omega-3 fatty acids in rheumatic diseases. JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. 2017;23(6):330-339. doi:10.1097/RHU.0000000000000563

  4. National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fact sheet for health professionals.

  5. Rajaei E, Mowla K, Ghorbani A, Bahadoram S, Bahadoram M, Dargahi-Malamir M. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis receiving DMARDs therapy: double-blind randomized controlled trial. Glob J Health Sci. 2015;8(7):18-25. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v8n7p18

  6. Kwantes JM, Grundmann O. A brief review of krill oil history, research, and the commercial market. J Diet Suppl. 2015 Mar;12(1):23-35. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2014.902000. PMID: 24689485.

  7. Arthritis Foundation. Best fish oils for arthritis

  8. Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to manBiochemical Society Transactions. 2017;45(5):1105-1115. doi:10.1042/BST20160474

  9. Harvard Health. Do fish oil supplements reduce inflammation?

  10. Centers for Disease Control. Joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis.

  11. Kostoglou-Athanassiou I, Athanassiou L,Athanassiou P. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on rheumatoid arthritis. MediterrJ Rheumatol. 2020;31(2):190-194. doi:10.31138/mjr.31.2.190

  12. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease. Osteoarthritis.

  13. Boe C, Vangsness CT. Fish oil and osteoarthritis: current evidenceAm J Orthop (Belle Mead NJ). 2015;44(7):302-305.

  14. Chauhan S, Kodali H, Noor J, Ramteke K, Gawai V. Role of omega-3 fatty acids on lipid profile in diabetic dyslipidaemia: Single blind, randomised clinical trialJ Clin Diagn Res. 2017;11(3):OC13-OC16. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2017/20628.9449

  15. Nelson J, Sjöblom H, Gjertsson I, Ulven SM, Lindqvist HM, Bärebring L. Do Interventions with diet or dietary supplements reduce the disease activity score in rheumatoid arthritis? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2991. doi:10.3390/nu12102991

  16. Fenton JI, Hord NG, Ghosh S, Gurzell EA. Immunomodulation by dietary long chain omega-3 fatty acids and the potential for adverse health outcomes. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 201389(6):379–90. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2013.09.011