Omega 3 Joint Health: Just How Essential Is Omega 3?

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that play a crucial role a lot of areas of our health, but omega is particularly important for brain and joint health. And seeing as Omega 3 cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained through diet or supplements it’s important to make sure that we get enough.

Unfortunately, not all types of Omega 3 are equally as good for us and in fact one is of the 3 main types is almost unusable.

Of these 3 main types of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are used by the body. They are why omega 3 is essential for joint health, the brain, heart, etc.

ALA or alpha-linolenic acid however, needs to be converted into EPA or DHA to be used. And unfortunately, the body loses around 85% of this in the process. ALA is the version of omega 3 found in land based plant- sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. [1]

DHA and EPA are generally found in fish and algae, although you can get some from eggs and meat.

This ultimately means that vegans are likely to need to supplement omega 3 for joint health, as the amount of calories you’d have to consume to get enough DHA and EPA from plant based sources like walnut etc is around 3 times more than the recommended daily intake.

Although not getting enough omega seems to be a risk for everyone with one of the latest large scale studies showing 95% of children and 68% of adults are below the healthy threshold, and with up to 90% of these adults being so low that it increases the risk of joint health concerns significantly, as well as more significant issues. [2]

Understanding Joint Health and Omega 3

To understand the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for joint health, we have to understand how joints and inflammation actually work. Joints are actually quite complex structures, but the simple explanation is that they connect bones and facilitate movement.

They are lined with a protective layer of cartilage, which acts as a cushion and allows for smooth joint motion.

Omega 3 is essential for supressing inflammation and in the creation of lubricants and tissue for the joints. [3]

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Joint Conditions

Whilst Omega 3 is important for joint health in general, it’s been particularly well studied when it comes to the various forms of arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints. This chronic inflammation leads to joint damage, pain, swelling, and stiffness. And quite a few studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the severity of symptoms and slow the progression of RA.

One study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology found that omega-3 fatty acids have immunomodulatory properties and can suppress the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in individuals with RA. The study reported improvements in disease activity, including a decrease in the number of swollen and tender joints, after omega-3 supplementation. [4]


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints. The condition not only causes joint pain but also stiffness, and limited mobility. Omega 3 has been studied for their potential to reduce inflammation and slow the progression of OA.

Research published in the journal of Nutrients suggests that omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate symptoms of OA by reducing pain and improving joint function. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s may help protect cartilage from further damage and promote its repair. [5] There’s generally quite a lot of studies on this and most seem to be positive.


Gout is a type of arthritis characterized by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, leading to severe pain and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have been investigated for their potential to reduce the frequency and severity of gout attacks.

A study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology found that higher dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a lower risk of gout attacks in men. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s may help alleviate the pain and swelling associated with gout. [6]

How Omega-3 Fatty Acids Impact Joint Health

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Omega 3 has been shown to reduce inflammation by reducing the production of inflammatory molecules within the body, such as cytokines and prostaglandins. These play a key role in joint inflammation. By suppressing inflammation, omega-3s can help alleviate pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. [7]

Modulation of Immune Response

In autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to chronic inflammation and joint damage. Omega-3 fatty acids have immunomodulatory effects, meaning they can regulate the immune response and prevent excessive inflammation. [8]

Cartilage Protection and Repair

Cartilage is a crucial component of healthy joints as it provides cushioning and allows for smooth movement. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to support cartilage health by promoting its repair and preventing its breakdown. They can increase the production of collagen, a protein that maintains the structure and integrity of cartilage. Additionally, omega-3s can block the enzymes responsible for cartilage degradation, further protecting joint health. [9]

Reduction of Morning Stiffness

Morning stiffness is a common symptom experienced by individuals with joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. It refers to the sensation of joint stiffness upon waking up or after prolonged periods of inactivity. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the duration and severity of morning stiffness, allowing individuals to start their day with greater comfort and mobility. [10]

Improved Joint Function

Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with improved joint function in individuals with arthritis. Research has shown that omega-3 supplementation can enhance grip strength, increase range of motion, and improve physical performance in individuals with joint conditions. These improvements in joint function can significantly enhance quality of life and daily activities. [11]

Decreased Pain Scores

Pain is a hallmark symptom of arthritis and can significantly impact an individual's quality of life. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for their analgesic properties, [12] with research indicating that they can reduce pain scores in individuals with joint conditions. By reducing inflammation and modulating pain pathways, omega-3s can help alleviate joint pain and improve overall well-being.

Dosage of Omega Required For Healthy Joints

As a rule of thumb we’re talking about 1100mg of Omega 3 per day, being the RDI, [13] some studies have shown larger supplementation to be more beneficial, but in generally this is the minimum. But, it needs to be 1100mg of EPA/DHA not ALA. Meaning Flax Seed supplements aren’t going to cut it, despite their popularity with vegans and vegetarians.

There are a few different options when it comes to getting enough Omega 3.

Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oil supplements are the most well known way to increase omega-3 intake. They typically contain concentrated amounts of EPA and DHA, the two most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Fatty Fish and Seafood

Including fatty fish and seafood in your diet is a natural way to boost omega-3 intake. These marine sources are rich in EPA and DHA, making them ideal for promoting joint health. Some omega-3-rich fish options include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, and light tuna. Aim to consume at least two servings of fatty fish per week to ensure an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Plant-Based Sources (Algae Supplements)

For individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet, plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids can be incorporated into the diet. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts are excellent sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. While ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body, this conversion process is very poor as we mentioned in the intro.

However not all is lost, Algae contains a high amount EPA/DHA, but this is realistically the only viable source for vegans.

Omega 3 Side Effects and Precautions

Omega-3 fatty acids are generally safe for most individuals when consumed in appropriate doses.

Interactions with Medications

Whilst the risk of normal levels of Omega 3 supplements is minimal. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in high doses from supplementation, can interact with certain medications. For example, omega-3s may enhance the effects of blood-thinning medications, increasing the risk of bleeding. Additionally, they may interact with certain medications used to control blood sugar levels or manage blood pressure. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or registered dietitian, before starting omega-3 supplementation, especially if you are taking any medications.

Allergic Reactions

While relatively rare, some individuals may be allergic to certain fish, which are common sources of omega-3 fatty acids. There is also the risk for contamination with shellfish, or even it being the source. Allergic reactions to omega-3 supplements may include hives, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing. If you experience any signs of an allergic reaction, discontinue use and seek medical attention immediately. 

Digestive Issues

In some cases, high doses of omega-3 fatty acids from supplementation may cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, nausea, or indigestion. This is realistically the most likely issue that anyone is going to have with Omega 3. To minimize these potential side effects, start with a lower dose and gradually increase it as tolerated. Taking omega-3 fatty acids with meals can also help reduce the likelihood of digestive discomfort. [14]

Incorporating Omega-3 Fatty Acids into Your Diet

To harness the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for joint health, it is essential to incorporate them into your daily diet. Let's explore some practical tips and delicious recipes to help you increase your omega-3 intake.

Delicious Recipes Rich in Omega-3s

Baked Salmon with Lemon and Dill: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a salmon fillet on a piece of parchment paper, top it with lemon slices, fresh dill, and a sprinkle of black pepper. Fold the parchment paper to create a sealed envelope, and bake for about 20 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through. Serve with steamed vegetables or a side salad.

Chia Seed Pudding: In a jar or bowl, combine 1/4 cup of chia seeds, 1 cup of almond milk, a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup, and a dash of vanilla extract. Stir well and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, enjoy your delicious chia seed pudding topped with fresh berries and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts.

Tips for Meal Planning

Incorporate fatty fish into your weekly meal plan. 

  • Plan at least two meals per week that feature omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, sardines, or mackerel.
  • Use flaxseeds or chia seeds as a topping for your breakfast cereal, yogurt, or smoothies.
  • Cook with olive oil, a rich source of monounsaturated fats, which can complement the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Experiment with plant-based omega-3 sources such as hemp seeds or walnuts in your salads, stir-fries, or homemade granola bars.

Conclusion: Do I Need To Supplement Omega 3 For Joint Health?

Honestly, most people who don’t eat a high fish diet would likely benefit from an omega 3 supplement, even those who don't otherwise need some sort of supplements for their joints. That doesn’t mean you need to make sure to take 1100mg a day, but half that would do most people just fine. And seeing as most supplements are 1100mg split between two capsules this should be easy enough to do as a way of saving a few dollars.

Despite being often overlooked these fats are in fact essential. Not only are Omega 3’s essential for joint health, but they also have anti-inflammatory properties, modulate the immune response, and support the heart and brain.

People with existing joint conditions have also been shown to benefit from getting more omega 3 across multiple studies. With omega 3 reducing joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation, which can improve joint function and enhance overall quality of life.

Whether through fatty fish or supplementation, it is important to ensure an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids.


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