Fish Oil for Arthritis: Pros and Cons

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

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

Fish oil supplements

 ma-k/Getty Images

What Is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is an oil that comes from fish tissue or fat. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, other vitamins and minerals in fish oil include vitamin A and D.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many types of fish, including tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and salmon. It's also found in flaxseed and in dietary supplements.

Fatty acids that are high in omega-3 are:

  • 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

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 have shown that 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, with resulting 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 for 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 200-500 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). It is important to 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

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.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. Published 2017 Jan 6. doi:10.3390/nu9010042

  2. The Arthritis Foundation. Fish oil.

  3. National Institutes of Health. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fact sheet for health professionals. Updated October 1, 2018.

  4. 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. Published 2015 Nov 3. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v8n7p18

  5. 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.Epub 2014 Apr 1. PMID: 24689485.

  6. Arthritis Foundation. Best fish oils for arthritis

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

  8. Harvard Health. Do fish oil supplements reduce inflammation? September 2016.

  9. Centers for Disease Control. Joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Updated May 22, 2020.

  10. Kostoglou-Athanassiou I, Athanassiou L,Athanassiou P. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on rheumatoid arthritis. MediterrJ Rheumatol. 2020;31(2):190-194. Published 2020 Jun 30. doi:10.31138/mjr.31.2.190

  11. 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. September 2017 - Volume 23 - Issue 6 - p 330-339 doi:10.1097/RHU.0000000000000563

  12. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease. Osteoarthritis. Updated October 2019.

  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