Omega-3’s and Joint Health



  • EPA and DHA omega-3s are essential nutrients for joint health.
  • Omega-3s help joints stay healthy and flexible in adults of all ages.
  • Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from regular consumption of sufficient fish oil.

Everybody needs omega-3s, but people who experience joint pain and stiffness or have rheumatoid arthritis have a special need for EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3s. These healthy fats, which are necessary for good nutrition, are specifically helpful for healthy joints, such as hips and knees.  Because our bodies cannot make EPA and DHA, we need to eat them in our diet.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability

Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints.  There are many types of arthritis but common to them all is joint pain, discomfort, and restricted mobility.  Arthritis affects more women than men and more adults over 45 years of age and older.  Over time, arthritis can seriously impair quality of life. It is the leading cause of disability in the United States[1].

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease distinguished by chronic inflammation in multiple joints in the body.  Individuals with RA experience joint pain, swelling, morning stiffness, limited flexibility, and impaired motion, all indicators of joint and tissue inflammation.


How do omega-3s work?

EPA and DHA omega-3s are important for people with joint pain and stiffness and for people with RA because they strengthen the immune system and help lower inflammation in joints and tissues. Research has identified that omega-3s work in several ways. For example, EPA omega-3 is directly and indirectly involved in reducing inflammation while EPA and DHA together help manage joint mobility and restore joint and tissue health. Plus there is an added benefit: people with RA have a higher risk for heart disease and EPA and DHA are well known for supporting good heart health[2],[3],[4].

Many studies using fish oil for joint health and RA have been completed over the past 20 years. Studies have reported improvement in several RA symptoms after daily consumption for several months of at least 3 grams of EPA and DHA omega-3: less joint pain, smaller number of painful joints, less morning stiffness (shorter duration), and less use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications. Research also shows continued improvement with consistent supplementation.  Conversely, it is important to note that studies routinely report no benefit for RA until at least 3 months of regular supplementation and no reduction of symptoms from consuming less than 1000 mg EPA and DHA per day[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10].

Regular consumption is key.RA research consistently reports that regular consumption of sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA is key to reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.

How much to consume

It is recommended that individuals with joint pain and stiffness consume 1,000 – 2,000 mg EPA and DHA per day. For individuals with RA, daily doses of at least 3 grams (3,000 mg) of EPA and DHA with relatively more EPA than DHA are suggested4,6,7,8.  (Note: Research has shown good results with up to 6 grams per day, but it’s best to talk with your doctor or dietitian before consuming this much omega-3).

Read labels carefully.The amount of fish oil per serving is not the same as the amount of EPA and DHA per serving.  Be sure to read the label for mg of EPA and DHA.

Because frequent and substantial consumption of omega-3 rich fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, is essential for improving arthritis, consuming enough omega-3s in the diet can be challenging. For people who don’t like fish or who won’t eat fish, and for those who want the convenience and reliability of a supplement, purified and concentrated fish oil supplements are an effective choice. Fish oil supplements (capsules or liquid) should be taken with food, all at one time (with a meal) or over the day.


Regular consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3s supports joint health and helps reduce joint stiffness as well as symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis when consumed over long periods of time. In addition, omega-3s support the heart and healthy blood pressure levels, improve mood, and provide good nutrition, all attributes that contribute to better health and more youthful aging.


By Gretchen Vannice, MS, RDN ©All rights reserved 2014

About the author: Gretchen Vannice, the Omega-3 RD, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and consultant who specializes in omega-3 fatty acids and natural foods. She is a strategist, trainer, speaker, and author. Gretchen is lead author of the “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fatty Acids for Healthy Adults” published January 2014 and author of the Omega-3 Handbook: A Ready Reference Guide for Health Professionals. She can be reached at

Disclaimer:  Written by an independent nutritional expert, this information is provided for educational purposes only.  It is not intended as medical advice.  Always consult your healthcare provider for medical advice.



[2] Calder PC.  n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases.  Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(6 Suppl):1505S-1519S.

[3] Walsh N. Fish oil for rheumatoid arthritis. Family Practice News, 2004;34(20).

[4] Hill C, Gill TK, et al. The use of fish oil in the community: Results of a population-based study. Rheumatology 2009;48:441-442.

[5] Fortin PR, Lew RA, et al. Validation of a meta-analysis: The effects of fish oil in rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Epidemiol 1995, 48(11):1379-1390.

[6] Kremer JM. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements in rheumatoid arthritis. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:349S-351S.

[7] Goldberg RJ, Katz J.A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain.Pain, 2007;129(1-2):210-223.

[8] Lee YH, Choi SJ, et al. AB0613 omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: A meta-analysis. Ann Rheum Dis 2013;71:673.

[9] Galarraga B, Ho M, et al. Cod liver oil (n-3 fatty acids) as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug sparing agent in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology 2008;47:665-669.

[10] Proudman SM, Cleland LG, James MJ. Dietary omega-3 fats for treatment of inflammatory joint disease: Efficacy and utility. Rheum Dis Clin North Am 2008;34(2):469-479.

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