Alternative to Prescription Arthritis Relief
People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can reduce their symptoms by supplementing with fish oil, and supplementing with olive oil can add to the benefit, according to a study published in Nutrition (2005;21:131–6).
RA is an inflammatory condition caused by an autoimmune reaction that targets the joints; symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and fatigue. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, steroids, and medicines that inhibit the immune system are typically used to treat RA. In addition, some dietary measures and nutritional supplements can be helpful.
Studies have suggested that identifying and eliminating foods that trigger the inflammatory process from the diet can reduce RA symptoms. Supplementing with fish oil has also demonstrated a positive effect on RA symptoms. Fish oil contains high amounts of two fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil is rich in the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, which is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, extra-virgin (unrefined) olive oil contains vitamin E and numerous other compounds that act as antioxidants and could contribute to its beneficial effects. Olive oil’s potential ability to treat RA has not been previously studied.
In the current study, 55 people with RA were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one group received a total of 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids from 20 capsules of fish oil per day; a second group received the same amount of fish oil fatty acids plus 6.8 grams (about 2 teaspoons) of extra virgin olive oil per day, taken on salads; and a third group received a soy oil placebo. Medications used before the study were not changed during the study. Symptoms (pain, stiffness, and fatigue) and ability to function (hand grip strength, and limitations to daily activities and self-care) were evaluated at clinic visits at the beginning of the study, after 12 weeks, and after 24 weeks. Blood tests were done at the same visits to measure markers of inflammation and disease progression.
At the end of the study, both groups supplementing with oils experienced significantly more improvement than the placebo group. The improvements noted at 12 weeks, however, were seen more in people using fish oil plus olive oil than those using just fish oil. Furthermore, those using fish oil plus olive oil had a significantly greater improvement in a blood marker of the disease than those using placebo, but those using fish oil alone did not.
These results suggest that extra-virgin olive oil might enhance the benefits of fish oil in people with RA. People with RA who are using fish oil fatty acids as part of their treatment would be well advised to incorporate olive oil into their diets. The observations from this study further suggest that previous studies in which olive oil has been used as placebo might have underestimated the effectiveness of fish oil fatty acids in treating RA. Future studies of fatty acids should use a more suitable placebo.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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