Arthritis affects more than 10 million people in the UK.
The condition is usually lifelong, with symptoms including pain, inflammation and stiffness of the joints.
While arthritis has no direct cure, some foods and supplements contain properties that can help improve symptoms and relieve pain and inflammation.
“Research has shown that some foods and food supplements really can help with arthritis, although the effects are fairly specific to the type of arthritis you have,” said charity Versus Arthritis.
According to Versus, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to help some people with inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Recent research has also shown omega-3 can improve symptoms when taken alongside disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, such as methotrexate.
Omega-3 is known as an ‘essential fatty acid’. It’s a type of fatty acid that cannot be produced in the body and therefore must be obtained from food.
Omega-3 fatty acids exist in two forms: long-chain (DHA and EPA) and short-chain (ALA).
Long-chain fatty acids are found in oily fish, such as pilchards, sardines, mackerel and salmon.
Short-chain fatty acids are found in rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil and walnuts.
Another essential fatty acid is omega-6. Omega-6 is found in sunflower oil and corn oil.
According to Versus, the body uses both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to make chemicals called prostaglandins and leukotrienes.
“The right balance of these helps to control inflammation, and EPA and DHA promote the anti-inflammatory chemicals,” said Versus.
“Too much omega-6 can increase inflammation in the body but omega-3 fatty acids, especially the long-chain forms EPA and DHA, are thought to be of use in inflammatory arthritis.”
“It’s possible that the short-chain forms may be converted within the body into the long-chain forms that benefit arthritis.”
“However, it’s not yet clear whether these are as useful as the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.”
UK guidelines recommend eating two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily.
This works out to about 0.45g of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids per day.
However, according to Versus, research suggests at least 2.7g of EPA and DHA are needed per day to improve arthritis symptoms, so you could take a supplement to get the full amount.
“Fish oils act quite slowly so we recommend that you give them at least 3 months’ trial,” said Versus.