We’re constantly being told to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids and here’s another reason why – it could significantly reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. This relatively common disease is both painful and debilitating, so the idea that a simple weekly serving of oily fish – such as salmon, mackerel or herring – could help to prevent it is an attractive one.
Study Investigates Links between Eating Fish and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden set out to investigate the possibility of a link between regular consumption of fish and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease that affects up to 1% of adults in the US.
They collected information on the dietary habits of more than 32,000 women – born between 1914 and 1948 – at two different points in time: 1987 and 1997. The researchers were particularly interested in women’s intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in high levels in oily fish and have previously been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
The researchers found large variations in the women’s omega-3 intakes, with a fourfold difference between the highest and lowest consumers. A total of 205 women were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis during the study’s seven-year monitoring period and the researchers observed that women with a high intake of oily fish and omega-3 fatty acids were noticeably less likely to develop the disease.
Overall, women whose intake of omega-3 fatty acids exceeded 0.21g per day – the equivalent of one or more servings of oily fish per week – in both 1987 and 1997 were only half as likely to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as those who consumed less.
What Does the Study Tell Us?
While the study was unable to prove beyond doubt that a fish-rich diet prevented rheumatoid arthritis in these women, it does suggest a clear link between eating oily fish regularly over a number of years and a reduced risk of the disease.
Writing in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, the researchers claimed that their study “supports the hypothesis that dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may play a role in the etiology (causation) of rheumatoid arthritis”. They also suggested that “adherence to existing dietary guidelines regarding fish consumption may be beneficial in terms of rheumatoid arthritis risk”.
How Might Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The apparent link between eating oily fish and a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis is not entirely unexpected. Omega-3 fatty acids are already known to have anti-inflammatory properties, hence their supposed benefits for the cardiovascular system.
Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by chronic inflammation, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy tissues, and can affect the joints as well as the cardiovascular system. The Swedish researchers themselves said that omega-3 fatty acids “could protect against rheumatoid arthritis development through their anti-inflammatory properties”.
Will A Fishy Diet Definitely Prevent Disease?
Sadly, there is no absolute guarantee that eating fish regularly will stop you from getting rheumatoid arthritis. Lots of other factors – including un-modifiable ones such as your genetic make-up and lifestyle ones such as smoking – also influence your chances of developing the disease. However, ensuring you get at least one serving of oily fish is a simple way to potentially reduce your odds of succumbing to this painful condition.