When Lady Gaga announced she was suffering from the rheumatoid arthritis, she helped raise awareness of this vicious autoimmune disease that afflicts millions. Causing inflammation in the joints that leads to crippling pain and swelling, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) afflicts people of all ages. The goal of treatment tends to be reducing the inflammation; now it turns out that regularly eating fish can help tamp down the fires of RA, according to a study which was recently published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.
The study was conducted by a group of researchers led by Sara K. Tedeschi, MD, MPHB, of the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tedeschi analyzed data from 176 participants in the ESCAPE-RA study (Evaluation of Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease and Predictors of Events in Rheumatoid Arthritis). She says the object was “to assess whether more frequent consumption of non-fried fish—such as tuna, salmon, sardines, trout, sole, and halibut—is associated with lower RA disease activity.”
From 2004 to 2006, researchers tracked the eating habits and condition of the volunteers. When Dr. Tedeschi dug into the data, she discovered that patients who ate fish two or more times a week had much lower RA disease activity compared to patients who ate fish less than once per month, or not at all. The link between a fishy diet and symptoms was clear: With each additional serving of fish per month or week, patients did much better. The study has limitations, points out Dr. Tedeschi, because it’s only able to detect a relationship between improved RA outcomes and fish-eating; to prove a true benefit, the next step is a trial in which RA patients add fish to their diet to see if their health improves.
However, notes Dr. Tedeschi, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may be an important factor, since “prior randomized clinical trials of omega-3 fatty acid supplements in RA have shown benefit, with reductions in pain and the number of tender joints.” While the amount of omega- 3s in supplements tends to exceed that in fish, Dr. Tedeschi thinks there’s a reason that they were able to detect a significant impact from fish in the diet: “It’s possible that consuming the combination of omega-3 fatty acids in the context of the other nutrients in fish could promote less inflammation.”
Fish aren’t the only way to get omega-3s: Here are options for people who don’t like fish. Based on the Tedeschi research group’s study, they may therefore be a good addition to your rheumatoid arthritis diet. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re not eating foods that can make joint inflammation worse.