Combination of the two proves more potent than dietary omega-3s alone
by Craig Weatherby
When we decided to pack our premium Portugese sardines and Pacific albacore tuna in extra virgin olive oil, we were motivated primarily by concern for culinary and nutritional quality.
Now, thanks to research published earlier this year, it seems our decision may have had unanticipated therapeutic benefits as well. A new study confirms the arthritis-alleviating effects of omega-3s, and indicates that they are amplified when taken in combination with olive oil.
Osteoarthritis: painful but manageable
Most of us know one or more of the tens of millions of Americans who suffer the aches and pains of osteoarthritis (OA): the type of arthritis that accompanies aging, and occupations or recreational activities that stress knee, hand, or finger joints. Osteoarthritis is usually accompanied by significant but relatively minor inflammation-driven pain, which occurs as a side effect of wear and tear on joint cartilage.
While we need clinical trials to confirm the utility of omega-3s in treating OA—the only study conducted to date (using cod liver oil) reported negative results—research from Britain shows that omega-3s reduce inflammation in osteoarthritic human joint tissues. Better yet, omega-3s were shown to switch off the collagen-degrading enzymes that break down joint cartilage: an effect that could help prevent increasing declines in joint function among OA patients.
Rheumatoid arthritis: Omega-3s to the rescue
However, the attention of rheumatologists has focused on the positive effects that omega-3s exert in people with rheumatoid arthritis: OA's less common, but far more serious cousin.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by severe, painful, potentially crippling inflammation of the lining of the joints. This characteristic inflammation is caused when the body's immune system mounts an attack on its own joint tissues. No one is yet sure what causes the immune system to begin malfunctioning.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 2.1 million Americans, the majority of whom are women in middle age. While there is no cure, it is quite possible to control RA with dietary changes, new immune-modulating drugs, exercise therapy, and joint protection techniques.
The results of numerous controlled clinical trials prove that the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil (EPA and DHA) can relieve the inflammatory symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis to a significant extent, thanks to their anti-inflammatory effects.
Doctors typically recommend that RA patients take three grams of combined EPA and DHA per day. While the pain-relieving effects of fish oil can take three months to manifest fully, those benefits can enhance quality of life substantially.
The short-chain omega-3 fatty acids in nuts, seeds, and certain vegetable oils (walnut, flaxseed, hemp, canola) have been found ineffective for RA patients. It seems that only long-chain omega-3s such as EPA and DHA—the kind found in fish oil—possess sufficient anti-inflammatory potency to deliver significant relief (The body converts only a small percentage of the short-chain omega-3s in plants to long-chain omega-3s).
Omega-3s + olive oil = extra rheumatoid arthritis relief
The results of a recent study conducted indicate that people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis can enhance the positive effects of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids by adding very small amounts of olive oil to their diet.
Forty-three middle aged rheumatoid arthritis patients (most female) were assigned to one of three groups. In addition to their usual medication, people in the three groups received one of three adjuncts every day:
Blood and clinical measures of disease activity (e.g., joint pain intensity, right and left handgrip strength)—as well as patients' relative ease in conducting daily activities (e.g., bending down, getting in and out of a car, duration of morning stiffness, ability to turn faucets on and off)—were measured at the beginning of the study and after 12 and 24 weeks.
The effects of omega-3s alone were good, compared to placebo, but the results in the group receiving fish oil and olive oil were even better. As the authors said in their conclusion: “Ingestion of fish oil omega-3 fatty acids relieved several clinical parameters used in the present study. However, patients showed a more precocious and accentuated improvement when fish oil supplements were used in combination with olive oil.”
While the study authors did not identify the grade of olive oil used— extra virgin (unrefined), “pure” (heavily refined), or virgin (mix of “pure” and extra virgin)—it would make sense to use extra virgin (unrefined) olive oil, since it is the only grade sure to retain the extremely potent hydroxytrosol antioxidants, which also exert strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Succulent sources of beneficial fats
One easy way to get ample omega-3s is by taking our Sockeye Salmon Oil supplements, which are rich in the potent astaxanthin antioxidant.
Of course, you can ensure a steady, palate-pleasing supply of omega-3s by enjoying our wild Alaskan salmon (canned or fresh-frozen), sablefish, and albacore tuna. And while the levels of omega-3s in our wild Alaskan halibut are lower—about 40 percent of those in salmon—they remain very substantial.
As to extra virgin olive oil, our Vital Choice canned tuna and sardines come packed in this premium quality culinary prize. Note: To preserve the beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil, use it in dressings and sauces or cook with it at relatively low temperatures, making sure to keep it well below the smoke point. (Use canola, sesame, or grape seed oil for high-temperature cooking and stir-frying.)