Examine publishes rigorous, unbiased analysis of the latest and most important nutrition and supplementation studies each month, available to all Examine Members. Click here to learn more or log in.

In this article

Oiling up arthritic joints

There have been many, many randomized trials done on fish oil and other marine oils, looking at their effects on arthritis. But when you look at all the trials together, what's the verdict?

Study under review: Marine Oil Supplements for Arthritis Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials


Arthritis afflicts[1] 46 million Americans, or approximately 21% of the U.S. population. Although types of arthritis differ in their cause, all are characterized by joint inflammation that leads to pain, stiffness, swelling, and other unpleasant symptoms. For instance, osteoarthritis is caused by a progressive loss of cartilage that leads to joint inflammation via bone-on-bone rubbing, whereas rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that targets joint tissue. Some of the underlying mechanisms are pictured in Figure 1.

The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are heavily investigated anti-inflammatory compounds. A recent meta-analysis[2] showed that EPA and DHA supplementation significantly reduced several inflammatory molecules, including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), C-reactive protein (CRP), and interleukin-6 (IL-6). It is possible that supplementing with EPA and DHA could help relieve arthritic symptoms, such as pain, by exerting an anti-inflammatory effect.

Three meta-analyses have been[3] published[4] comparing omega-3 supplementation to a control treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, all of which found a beneficial effect of EPA and DHA for reducing joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness. However, these meta-analyses included all omega-3 fatty acids, not just EPA and DHA, and did not quantitatively assess the risk of bias and the quality of evidence. Plus, the most recent meta-analysis was conducted in 2012, meaning that five years of research has not been evaluated.

The study under review is a meta-analysis looking at the effect of EPA and DHA on arthritic symptoms, including pain, physical function, and inflammation. The study also evaluated adverse events from EPA and DHA supplementation.

Figure 1: How cartilage degrades in osteoarthritis versus rheumatoid arthritis

Adapted from: Pap et al. Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2015 Jul.

Arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation of the joints. It stands to reason that EPA and DHA may benefit patients with arthritis, considering their potent anti-inflammatory effects. Accordingly, the current meta-analysis sought to evaluate whether EPA and DHA supplementation reduced arthritic pain, benefited physical function, reduced inflammation, and was tolerable and safe.

Who and what was studied?

Become an Examine Member to read the full article.

Becoming an Examine Member will keep you on the cutting edge of health research with access to in-depth analyses such as this article.

You also unlock a big picture view of 400+ supplements and 600+ health topics, as well as actionable study summaries delivered to you every month across 25 health categories.

Stop wasting time and energy — we make it easy for you to stay on top of nutrition research.

Try free for two weeks

Already a member? Please login to read this article.

What were the findings?

Become an Examine Member to unlock this article.

Already a member? Please login to read this article.

What does the study really tell us?

Become an Examine Member to unlock this article.

Already a member? Please login to read this article.

The big picture

Become an Examine Member to unlock this article.

Already a member? Please login to read this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

Become an Examine Member to unlock this article.

Already a member? Please login to read this article.

What should I know?

Become an Examine Member to unlock this article.

Free 2-week trial »

Already a member? Please login to read this article.

Other Articles in Issue #28 (February 2017)

  • Protein for hypertension: the whey to go?
    Dairy has been linked to lower blood pressure. But can a high intake of whey protein, without the rest of the dairy components, show a benefit as well?
  • The mindfulness-body connection
    Health, and health-promoting habits, are massively influenced by how you think. This systematic review looked at mindfulness interventions, to see if they led to weight loss and psychological benefits.
  • Up your protein, lower your diabetes risk?
    Pre-diabetes can often lead to diabetes, and pre-diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate. Can switching out some carbs for protein help treat prediabetes?
  • Interview: Bill Willis, PhD
    Bill is one of the few researchers who's actively competed in bodybuilding. Plus he researches muscle repair!
  • Coconut water ... overhyped and understudied?
    Coconut water is slowly taking over grocery store aisles, with some athletes using it as a beverage of choice for hydration. This study looks at how well it actually performs for hydration during exercise
  • SCD for IBD?
    Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are difficult to treat, to say the least. Many have anecdotally found success with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is tested more rigorously in this trial.
  • Interview: Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD
    Are you considering adopting a plant-based diet? Dr. Hunnes gives both a global and personal view.