Omega-3 fatty acids are a popular topic when discussing nutrition and health. Omega-3s are a type of fatty acid. Fatty acids are substances that contain two ends: one end is a fat, the other an acid.
Omega-3s are found primarily in fish and fish oil supplements. They are not usually found in multivitamins and are rarely listed on nutritional labels. There is no daily recommendation for omega-3s, but they can play an important role in health.
An Overview of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The role of omega-3 fatty acids in health has been widely studied over the last several decades. Omega-3s have been hypothesized to play a role in many aspects of health, including:
- Cancer growth and metastasis
- Cardiovascular health
- Cognitive function
- Overall brain health
- Allergy and asthma
- Mental health
Despite wide-ranging studies, conclusive evidence is lacking for about half of these.
The benefits of omega-3s have been outlined for two areas of health: heart health1 and bone/joint health. Today, we’ll examine the effects of omega-3s on bone and joint health.
Omega-3’s and Bone Health
Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to bone health. One recent study looked at the role of omega-3s and bone mineral density in healthy women. Women who consumed more dietary omega-3’s tended to have a higher bone density in their hips.2
The results are promising, but this study did have some limitations. For example, the researchers only looked at Japanese women. It’s hard to know whether the results apply to other ethnicities or men. In addition, this was not a controlled trial. In other words, the researchers did not give half the women omega-3 supplements and the other half placebo. This can make it challenging to know the exact amount of omega-3’s each woman received.
Another study looked at the role of supplemental vitamin D, and omega-3’s in bone health.3 This study also examined healthy people but looked at both sexes and all ethnicities. The researchers found no relationship between vitamin D and bone density. They did not separately evaluate the role of omega-3’s. However, these researchers point out that the supplements were given to people without a deficiency in either vitamin D or omega-3s. They mentioned that those with a deficiency are likely to benefit from both supplements.
Omega-3s and Joint Health
Omega-3s show great promise in reducing joint discomfort.4
One study analyzed patients with nonspecific back and neck problems. These researchers showed that omega-3 supplementation aided in their improvement.5 Patients in this study also showed a lower frequency of using anti-inflammatory drugs.
A few studies have examined the role of omega-3 deficiency or omega-3s protective role in preventing joint issues from occurring as well. There is no daily recommended value of omega-3s. Once scientists understand the role of omega-3s as part of a regular diet, they may establish a daily value and shed light on a putative protective effect.
Sources of Omega-3s
They are also found in other foods, usually in smaller quantities. Some notable plant sources of omega-3s include:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
However, these provide only one type of omega-3s, while fish products provide many kinds of omega-3s. If you don’t eat fish regularly, an omega-3 supplement might be worthwhile. Artic Flex is an excellent source of omega-3s from krill oil.
- Should you be taking an omega-3 supplement? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-be-taking-an-omega-3-supplement. Accessed 8/12/2020.
- Kuroda T, Ohta H, Onoe Y, Tsugawa N, Shiraki M. Intake of omega-3 fatty acids contributes to bone mineral density at the hip in a younger Japanese female population. Osteoporos Int. 2017;28(10):2887-2891. DOI: 10.1007/s00198-017-4128-7.
- LeBoff MS, Chou SH, Murata EM, et al. Effects of supplemental vitamin D on bone health outcomes in women and men in the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL). J Bone Miner Res. 2020;35(5):883-893. DOI: 10.1002/jbmr.3958.
- Kwiatkowska B, Maślińska M. The place of omega-3 and omega-6 acids in supplementary treatment of inflammatory joint diseases. 2020;58(1):34-41. DOI: 10.5114/reum.2020.93511.
- Maroon JC, Bost JW. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surg Neurol. 2006;65(4):326-331. DOI: 10.1016/j.surneu.2005.10.023.