Research suggests eating more omega-3 rich foods and fewer omega-6 rich foods can lower inflammation and reduce arthritis pain.1-3 Learn about these fatty acids, which foods to avoid, and which foods to stock up on.
Omega-3 vs. omega-6 fatty acids
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and essential to the body. However, there are important differences:
- Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with decreased inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many foods, including salmon, eggs, walnuts, and flaxseed, as well as leafy green vegetables, such as spinach. Perhaps not surprisingly, these foods are commonly recommended as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Omega-6 fatty acids are associated with increased inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in most vegetable oils, including sunflower, corn, and canola oils, as well as meats, such as chicken, pork, and beef (—though grass-fed beef can be a source of omega-3’s4-5).
An easy way to lower your intake of omega-6 fatty acids is to avoid fried foods. For example, instead of ordering French fries, order a baked potato (just be sure to go easy on the butter, which also contains omega-6 fatty acids). If you make fries at home, try using an air fryer.
The ratio level of omega-6 to omega-3 matters
Health experts believe omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for bodily absorption because they both require the same enzyme for digestion.6 So even if you eat enough omega-3 fatty acids, the omega-6 fatty acids you eat may elbow out the omega-3 during digestion, and you may not derive the omega 3’s full anti-inflammatory benefits.
To be clear, just about everyone eats more omega-6 than omega-3, and that’s okay. The key is to lower the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Experts suspect that for most Americans, that ratio is currently about 16:1,7 so there is lots of room to improve omega-3 intake and absorption, to get the ideal 4:1 ratio7—and possibly reduce inflammation and knee pain.
Read more about Knee Pain and Arthritis
Research about omega-3s and arthritis
In one clinical study,2 researchers took blood samples from 167 adults with knee arthritis.
- Researchers measured the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in each blood sample.
- The experts categorized each blood sample on its ratio.
- They then compared knee pain and function of people who had relatively high ratio levels of omega-6 to -3 to people who had relatively low ratio levels of omega-6 to -3.
- Results showed that individuals who had relatively high amounts of omega-3 in their blood had less knee arthritis pain, better knee function, and less stress.
While this study and others are encouraging, more clinical research is needed to learn about the effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on arthritis.