You may have heard that omega-3 fats are good for your joints—and you’re right, particularly when it comes to inflammation. Most studies investigating omega-3 for joint health have looked at rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Omega-3 supplementation has been shown to reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and reduce symptoms and inflammation in these patients.

A new study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases investigates the role of omega-3 fats on the other main type of arthritis—osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis affects about 27 million people in the United States and involves loss of cartilage in joints, which causes pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility.

In the study, the researchers used an animal model and administered three different diets: one high in saturated fat, one high in omega-6 fats, and one high in omega-6 fats with additional omega-3. Those diets high in saturated and omega-6 fats caused a worsening of arthritis while the diet with added omega-3 helped slow joint deterioration.

“While omega-3 fatty acids aren’t reversing the injury, they appear to slow the progression of arthritis in this group of mice,” stated Farshid Guilak, PhD. “In fact, omega-3 fatty acids eliminated the detrimental effects of obesity in obese mice.”

Next, the researchers plan to study the effects of omega-3 fats in people with osteoarthritis induced by injury. I look forward to the results.

Because osteoarthritis triggers inflammation, many integrative physicians recommend omega-3 fats for their benefits on inflammation. Omega-3s help to balance the inflammatory effects of a diet high in omega-6 (the reason the omega-6-rich diet in the study above made the arthritis worse). Many people have insufficient levels of omega-3 due to the high prevalence of omega-6 fats in the diet.

Eating fish high in omega-3 (salmon, sardines, and herring, for example) and taking a fish oil supplement while lowering omega-6 intake (replace your vegetable oils with olive or coconut oil) will help to balance your omega-3/6 ratio and promote healthy joints.