Stopping rheumatoid arthritis pain may be as easy as adding one common food to your diet.
That’s the suggestion of a surprising Harvard study which found that one simple diet fix can treat arthritis. And it might also prevent the debilitating disease from ever developing.
Researchers at Harvard University and the affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston examined the diets of 176 people with rheumatoid arthritis.
They wanted to know if eating fish eased the condition. So they compiled data on how often arthritis patients ate fish. They also took preparation into account. They discounted fried fish due to unhealthy carbohydrates and fats that are often added in the cooking process.
They compared the subjects’ fish-eating frequency against a common rheumatoid arthritis disease score. It measures the number of swollen and tender joints, and blood markers for inflammation.
Eating Fish Brings Relief Comparable to Taking Prescription Drug
A score of less than 2.6 indicates that arthritis is in remission. A score greater than 5.1 indicates active, severely painful disease.
The median score for all 176 subjects was 3.5. This means they had moderate disease. But subjects who ate fish two or more times a week scored a full half point lower than those who ate fish only once or less per month.
And for each additional fish meal above the two times a week, patients lowered their score by 0.20.
This may not seem like much, but in real life the difference in pain is dramatic, researchers said.
It’s comparable to the relief many patients get by taking methotrexate drugs. They are the standard treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. And they can have severe side effects, including liver and kidney damage.
Dr. Sara Tedeschi is an associate rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She led the study.
“With that type of improvement (from eating fish), we would generally expect that a patient would feel noticeably better,” she said.
Why Fish Eases Arthritis Pain
The joint pain protection from fish is due to its omega-3 fatty acids, researchers said. Particularly protective are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They both inhibit inflammation.
Omega-3s block the action of immune cells called leukocytes and enzymes known as cytokines. Both of these cause inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Omega 3s stop the inflammation on a cellular level.
The study recently was published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research.
8 Best Fish for Arthritis Sufferers
Certain fish have more omega-3s than others. But some fish species are loaded with mercury, which can cause brain and nervous system disorders.
The best strategy is to eat fish that are high in healthy EPA and DHA while low in mercury. The Arthritis Foundation has put together a chart showing the top fish species for arthritis sufferers.
|Fish||EPA + DHA*||Mercury**|
|Salmon||1.2 – 1.8||0.022|
|Herring||1.1 – 1.7||0.084|
*Grams of fatty acid per 3-ounce portion
**Parts per million
Always choose fish that is wild-caught. Farm-raised fish are often fed antibiotics and treated with toxic chemicals.
If you don’t like fish, take a fish oil supplement. A separate study found that taking fish oil eases pain in people with osteoarthritis. It’s the most common form of arthritis.
Researchers at the University of Surry in England did an exhaustive analysis of 68 studies of diet and non-drug pain management strategies for arthritis. They concluded that osteoarthritis patients can get significant pain reduction by taking 1.5 grams of fish oil a day. They found that higher doses did not bring added relief.
When buying fish oil, choose wisely.
Supermarket and drug store brands often contain impurities. So look for higher-quality versions at health food stores and online.
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