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Why Omega-3 Helps Arthritis and Other Inflammatory Diseases


Researchers say they have discovered why an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil can help relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. It seems that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) holds a key to reducing inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory medications are among the most commonly used drugs in the United States, taken to relieve symptoms associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, gouty arthritis, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys), and colitis (inflammation of the large intestine), among others. These drugs are associated with side effects, including nausea, heartburn, dizziness, increase in blood pressure, constipation, diarrhea, gas, vomiting, and a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

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In inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s natural defenses against infections are directed at healthy tissue, which results in inflammation. During the inflammatory process white blood cells (leukocytes) adhere to the inner lining (endothelium) of the blood vessels.

In the current study, the researchers, who were from Queen Mary, University of London and Harvard Medical School, discovered how the body converts the omega-3 fatty acid DHA into a chemical called Resolvin D2. They then studied white blood cells and how they interacted with the endothelium. When they added Resolvin D2, the endothelial cells produced nitric oxide, a chemical that helps prevent the white blood cells from sticking to the endothelial cells, thus preventing inflammation.

The authors observed that Resolvin D2 is a powerful chemical, requiring only a small amount to achieve a significant reduction in inflammation. They suggest that this new knowledge about the omega-3 fatty acid DHA and Resolvin D2 could be a key factor in development new treatments for diseases such as stroke, arthritis, and sepsis, and other diseases associated with inflammation, and without the side effects associated with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Cleveland Clinic
Queen Mary, University of London news release, October 28, 2009