Science: Fish Eaters Experience Less Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

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Science: Fish Eaters Experience Less Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain
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If you regularly get some fish in your diet, you may have a lower relative risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, a new study says. According to the study, the pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis can be reduced by consuming fish at least twice a week. The researchers published their findings in the June 2017 issue of Arthritis Care & Research. [1]

The study’s authors wanted to determine whether eating fish would offer the same kind of beneficial effect provided by omega-3 fatty acid supplements. (Omega 3’s are a type of fat with anti-inflammatory properties which are often extracted from fish). The authors recruited 176 participants with rheumatoid arthritis who were asked about their diet over the past year. Their investigation focused on responses to questions about the participants’ frequency of eating tuna, salmon, sardines, and other fish that were cooked or raw. This food frequency questionnaire was derived from a study investigating risk factors for heart disease in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Excluded from the data gathering were fried fish, shellfish, and fish in mixed dishes. These meals have lower omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers categorized four frequencies of consumption including never or less than a month, once a month to less than once a week, once a week, and two or more times a week.

The study found out that almost 20 percent and close to 18 percent of participants had fish less than once a month or never and more than twice a week, respectively. Those who consumed more fish were found to experience less pain and swelling than those who ate fish less than once a month.

According to study author, Dr. Sara Tedeschi of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, their study is not something new, but it draws attention to the link between diet and arthritic disease. For Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Mount Sinai Hospital, the small trial raises the equal importance of what one eats and the medications one takes. [2]

Danesh stressed the need to address a patient’s diet before administering medication. He shared that he often advises his patients to eat more fish for a few months to see if it will help. However, due to the cost of fish, those unable to purchase several times a week could try omega-3 supplements as a second option.

So which fish are the best for arthritis? [3] There are a few species that are high in omega-3s, but the best sources are salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel. Fish that have high mercury content (typically large fish such as swordfish) should be avoided to prevent brain and nervous system damage.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1.5 million Americans have the disease which affects women far more than men. [4] Research shows that having the chronic systemic inflammatory disease also increases the risk of heart diseases. [5]

Tedeschi and colleagues reiterated that they still don’t have definite conclusions between fish consumption and rheumatoid arthritis activity. They want their findings to be replicated in other populations and over longer periods of time. This will enable them and other researchers to forward the value of eating more fish to people with rheumatoid arthritis.


[1] Tedeschi SK et al. June 21, 2017. Arthritis Care & Research. The relationship between fish consumption and disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis.

[2] Cleland LG et al. 2003. Drugs. The Role of Fish Oils in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis.…/

[3] University of Michigan. Integrative Medicine. Healing Foods Medicine.

[4] Arthritis Foundation. Understanding Arthritis.

[5] Crowson CS et al. October 2013. American Heart Journal. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cardiovascular Disease.

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