Arthritis is – for the most part – a disease of inflammation. When your joints swell, turn red and feel warm to the touch, what you’re witnessing and feeling are inflammatory processes in motion.
One way to calm inflammation is with medicine your doctor prescribes. Another way is to add a few key anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Among the most potent edible inflammation fighters are essential fatty acids called omega-3s – particularly the kinds of fatty acids found in fish.
OMEGA-3s & INFLAMMATION
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are called marine fatty acids because they come from fish. What makes these omega-3 sources worthwhile menu additions for people with arthritis is their ability to inhibit inflammation. Omega-3s interfere with immune cells called leukocytes and enzymes known as cytokines, which are both key players in the body’s inflammatory response.
WHICH FISH ARE BEST?
The best sources of marine omega-3s are fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Eating a 3- to 6-ounce serving of these fish two to four times a week is recommended for lowering inflammation and protecting the heart.
Many fish that are rich in omega-3s are also high in mercury, which can cause brain and nervous system damage when eaten in large enough quantities. “It’s important to choose the smaller fish that have less mercury,” Larson suggests. Smaller fish are lower in mercury simply by virtue of their position near the bottom of the food chain. When larger fish like swordfish, king mackerel, tuna and shark feed on large numbers of small fish, mercury from all of those fish accumulates in their bodies.
FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS
If you just can’t stomach salmon or sardines, you might want to consider a fish-oil supplement. Yet you may not get the same omega-3 benefits in a bottle. Although fish-oil supplements contain higher levels of EPA and DHA than you’d get from eating fish, that doesn’t mean your body will use those omega-3s as effectively. Some studies suggest our bodies don’t absorb omega-3 fatty acids as well from supplements as from fish.
And there are other reasons for choosing fish over pills. “We know that food has so many other things in it that we can’t get in a supplement,” Larson says. When you eat fish, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, you also get nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and selenium.