Reduce Arthritis Pain with Certain Foods

Tasty Ways to Get Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids can help lessen joint pain. Here’s how to get more of them in your rheumatoid arthritis diet.

Reduce Arthritis Pain: Tasty Ways to Get Omega-3s

Medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH

Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet won’t cure rheumatoid arthritis, but it just might help relieve some of your worst symptoms, like joint pain and stiffness. Omega-3 fatty acids are called essential fatty acids because your body needs them but can’t make them. That means it’s up to you to make sure they’re part of your diet. Shortchange yourself, and you could experience memory loss, heart problems, and even depression.

“Research shows these fatty acids may decrease your risk of heart disease, and people with rheumatoid arthritis are at significant risk for heart disease,” says Elaine Adams, MD, a professor of medicine and rheumatology at the Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. “There are also good studies that show omega-3s can reduce some of the joint pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis.”

Omega-3 fatty acids get high marks because they block inflammation and improve blood flow throughout your body. It’s important to know though that omega-3s aren’t a magic bullet for rheumatoid arthritis, and they’re not a first-line rheumatoid arthritis treatment. “The studies are good, but the evidence is still scant, and the effects are modest at best,” cautions Dr. Adams.

It’s also important not to expect instant results. A review of 17 studies on the effects of omega-3s on a variety of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis found that people did report benefits, including less joint pain and fewer minutes of that all-too-familiar morning stiffness, but it could take three to four months to really notice a difference.

Great Sources of Omega-3s for RA

The best way to get your omega-3s is through the foods you eat rather than a supplement. “A good example of a healthy diet for rheumatoid arthritis is the Mediterranean diet because it relies on lots of olive oil, fish, and vegetables,” says Adams. “Even if this diet doesn’t directly affect your joints, it will help you maintain a healthy weight that will take pressure off your joints.”

There are no hard-and-fast guidelines for exactly how much omega-3 you should have in a diet for rheumatoid arthritis, however, great foods for a rich omega-3s boost include:

  • Coldwater fish. These are the fatty fish — think sardines, salmon, herring, swordfish, tuna, and mackerel. A 4-ounce serving of sardines will give you about 1.8 grams of omega-3s.


  • Wheat germ and oat germ. Get the benefits of fiber along with omega-3s with these good sources. It takes 100 grams (about 3 ounces) of either wheat germ or oat germ to give you about 1 gram of omega-3.
  • Nuts and seeds. The oils in nuts and seeds are some of the best sources for omega-3s. Just 1 ounce of walnuts serves up 2.6 grams of omega-3s, and 1 ounce of flaxseeds will give you 1.8 grams. Grind them up and sprinkle on as a topping for yogurt, for instance. Almonds, pecans, pistachios, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are other versatile and tasty omega-3-rich seeds and nuts. Just watch portion sizes because these are all nutrient-dense foods that contain a fair amount of calories.
  • Soybeans and greens. Soybeans and tofu are good sources of omega-3, and many leafy green vegetables are, too. Try spinach, lettuce, chard, turnips, kale, collard, and mustard greens. Many are also sources of calcium. “Getting enough calcium is important because people with rheumatoid arthritis are at [increased] risk for osteoporosis,” says Adams.
  • Oils. One reason the Mediterranean diet is so good for your heart is that at its base is olive oil. Oils made from olives, as well as soybeans, walnuts, and canola, are all good choices. The highest source of omega-3 is from flaxseed oil at 6.9 grams per tablespoon — try it in homemade salad dressings and marinades. Fish oils are also a good source.

olive oil

Omega-3 Supplements and Safety Issues

If you don’t like fish or nuts, but want to try boosting your omega-3 intake, consider supplements, typically capsules made from fish, seaweed, and nut oils. The maximum recommended dose is 3 grams of any omega-3 supplement.

“To get 3 grams … you may need to take 10 capsules or more,” Adams says. “This can cause a bad taste in your mouth, an upset stomach, and bloating. There is also some danger that very high doses of omega-3s can cause bleeding.”

Omega-3 supplements may also cause diarrhea. If you are on a blood-thinning medication, be sure to check with your doctor before taking any omega-3 supplement. Your blood may get too thin and you could run into bleeding problems if you combine high doses of omega-3s with medications like aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a vital part of every diet, but they may be even more important if you have an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis. Explore the foods rich in this essential nutrient and you’re likely to find that this is one addition to your rheumatoid arthritis care plan that you can really enjoy.

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