Healthy living

How fish oils can help fight arthritis

Zone default image Omega-3 compound identified

Scientists have discovered why taking fish oils can help with rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions linked to inflammation such as stroke, sepsis and arthritis.

Although past studies have shown that fish oils can be of benefit to people with arthritis, this latest research explains how this occurs. The research is published in the journal Nature.

In a joint collaboration, scientists from Queen Mary London and Harvard Medical School discovered that the body converts an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils into Resolvin D2, a chemical which has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs currently in use, Resolvin D2 does not seem to suppress the immune system, the researchers noted.

Mauro Perretti, Professor of Immunopharmacology at Queen Mary, University of London, who led the UK team said: "We have known for some time that fish oils can help with conditions like arthritis which are linked to inflammation.

"What we've shown here is how the body processes a particular ingredient of fish oils into Resolvin D2. It seems to be a very powerful chemical and a small amount can have a large effect.

"This research is important because it explains at least one way in which fish oils can help in different types of arthritis.

"We can also work on this chemical and see if it can be used not only to treat or even prevent arthritis, but also as a possible treatment for a variety of other diseases associated with inflammation."

Arthritis, and many other diseases, are caused by inflammation. This means that the body's natural defences against infections are mistakenly directed at healthy tissue.

A crucial step in inflammation occurs when white blood cells from the immune system stick to the inner lining of blood vessels.

In lab tests scientists found that cells lining the blood vessels produced small amounts of nitric oxide which discouraged the white blood cells from sticking and so preventing inflammation.

Omega - 3 is an essential fatty acid. As your body cannot make it, omega-3 has to be sourced from your diet. Oily fish such as tuna (fresh, not canned), salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, pilchards and crab are all rich in omega-3, including DHA.

This article was published on Thu 29 October 2009

Image © Tomo Jesenicnik -

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