By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer
Fish oils have been recommended by family physicians and cardiologists as supplements for many disease conditions, not as cures, but as giving some relief. Fish oil is obtained from the tissues of the fatty fish. Omega-3 type of fatty acid contains two types called EPA and DHA These fatty acids seems to block inflammatory cytokines and prostaganglins: they are converted by the body into powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals called resolvins, protecting against heart disease and reducing high blood pressure. The latter beneficial effects have been disputed on recent studies on people who have had cardiovascular disease.
The effect of fish oil has not been studied for all forms of arthritis. Current researches show omega-3 fats are helpful for people with inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid, ankylosing spondylitis (spine) and psoriatic arthritis. EPA and DHA have been extensively studied for RA as well as dozens of other inflammatory conditions. A 2010 meta-analysis found that fish oil significantly decreased joint tenderness and stiffness in RA patients and reduced or eliminated NSAID use. A 2005 study of people with RA showed enhanced positive effects when fish oil supplements were used in combination with olive oil.
One must not confuse osteo-arthritis (OA) of joint and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Osteo arthritis (OA) is a wear and tear disease and relief is irreversible in advanced stage. Physically the arthritis destroys the joint structures like articular surfaces, bone edges, and cartilages. No palliative medication will help these cases, other than replacement surgery when the pain becomes unbearable. Rheumatoid arthritis on the hand affects the synovial membrane- the inner silky lining of the joint and fish oils may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the membrane, thereby giving some relief. Sometimes they get flare-ups, too. That's when their symptoms get worse, with the disease causing painful, swollen joints and extreme fatigue. With RA – an autoimmune disease – such flare ups are common, and taking even large doses of fish oil makes no difference. Rheumatoid arthritis flares can make it painful or impossible to do everyday tasks, like shopping or walking across a parking lot.
RA leads to joint damage, too. It can cause disability, and some people end up needing serious medical treatments like joint replacement surgery. It can hurt other parts of the body, too, like the eyes, heart, and lungs.
The truth is, living with RA means you will most likely be on a variety of medications for the rest of your life,Chronic fatigue affects 89% of people who have the RA, and it can sap their strength,
At 35, Chicago flight attendant Michele Mason says her bones felt like "pins and needles" were in them, and her hands were so swollen that she found it difficult to put on her infant son's socks. Her knees ached, too. "I couldn't even get out of the bathtub by myself," she says.
When her doctor suspected rheumatoid arthritis, Mason worried that traditional medicines might not be good for her breastfeeding baby. So with her doctor's blessing, she took a very low-dose steroid and turned to herbs and supplements, including boswellia (Indian frankincense) and fish oil, to help relieve the pain and inflammation.
Like Mason, about 30% of patients surveyed from North Carolina with rheumatoid have tried supplements, according to a study in Preventing Chronic Disease.
Herbs and supplements
The efficacy of herbs and supplements has not been studies in the same way that prescription medicines are researched for RA and other forms of arthritis. So as a result one has to go on the beliefs of patients rather than on scientific evidence.
Most patients suffering from arthritic conditions do take all types of medications at the same time or at different times, and most of them would say they give some form of relief, irrespective of the placebo effect.
The other factor to consider in the evaluation is that most of these patients do take prescription drugs and supplements simultaneously, and they believe that both types in combination are required to give relief. We are talking about reliefs and not cure. Arthritic conditions cannot be cured, but most patients go for pain relief medications to have a free range of movements in the joints affected.
Before combining prescriptions drugs with herbs and supplements, it is always good to talk to your doctor first, because herbs and supplements may interfere with other medicine you are taking. Furthermore, herbs and supplements are not regulated and you wouldn't be sure what you are buying.
Supplements and Herbs for RA
Borage Oil. Borage oil reduces swollen and tender joints, says Robert Zurier, MD, professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. With it, patients may need less prednisone, a steroid, for relief of symptoms, he says. Borage oil may cause bloating or an upset stomach. Borage oil products may hurt the liver and may also increase risk for bleeding, especially in those who are also using NSAIDs or anti-clotting medications.
These herbal extracts may give some relief but unfortunately total dependence is unreliable and prescription drugs may be required for relief.
Living a healthy life is important to prevent any form of arthritis. Exercise helps to keep your joints mobile, decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Gerry from Sydney comments: – I have osteoarthritis with pretty bad pain in my finger joints and have tried the conventional type medicines prescribed by my GP with good results but with very bad side effects.
After a lot of trial and error, I have settled on concentrated Omega 3 fish oil from Bioglan, an anti joint inflammation from Metagenics and some Cherry Flex muscle soreness soft gels – very good results with no side effects at all. Dosage is once a day. I can eat any type of food and am not convinced that certain foods are contra indicated for my Arthritis.
Further Gerry says, "So, as in my evaluations, if certain fish oils can help reduce inflammation, then it may help in the cardio-vascular arena. It certainly helps in my area of pain – and that's all I can vouch for Harold.
RA is one condition that lifestyle changes will ever make it just go away. RA can affect you when you are much younger, unlike OA. One could get a form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation of the eye, or uveitis, even as young as 3 years. Being a genetic disease it can affect families and takes a toll on every person in a family.
We would like readers to write to us regarding medications and supplements they take for arthritic conditions and their experiences and recovery prognosis. Arthritis seems to be very common among ex-pat Sri Lankans.
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