Elbow Grease: Omega 3 and Joint Relief

It is just a cliche until you’re forty-five or so, if you’re lucky. But sooner or later, you’ll wish there really were such a thing as elbow grease. Whether you’re a corporate animal or a manual worker, there comes a time when your joints start to creak and crack as a result of natural aging. Of course, such factors as hereditary illness and extra strain are likely to aggravate the misery. Fortunately, there’s a close substitute these days.

Human joints are one of the most amazing engineering feats in nature. They are reasonably resilient in their construction, but by means of successive layers of cartilage and fluids they keep friction between the two pieces of bone to a bare minimum. However, for much of human history our lifespans are brutally short compared to the modern 70 years or so. That is why Mother Nature, shrewd as ever, decided to skimp on her ingredients. After all, there’s no reason why a joint should have a longer shelf life than the entire organism.

Joint pains are either classified as non-inflammatory (arthralgia), or inflammatory (arthritis). The former cases usually involve trauma, cancer, gout, or infection. Inflammation of the joints, however, is a far more common occurrence, as it is usually related to aging. Statistically speaking, almost every single reader here would have either experienced first-hand, or know someone who has experienced arthritis. Of this, there are two major categories: osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Primary OA is a chronic degenerative disorder, but it isn’t directly caused by aging – witness the occasional nonogenarian jogging with abandon. The cartilages in our joints dry out with age, becoming less resilient in the process. Sometimes mild inflammation and attempted repairs are triggered in the process: bone growth, however well-intentioned, only adds to the pain at this stage.

(Note that rheumatoid arthritis is a whole other ball game: it is a systemic autoimmune disorder which affect 1% of the world’s population. Bluntly put, the body attacks itself at the synovial joints, crippling the victim in the process. Neither cause nor cure is known at this stage.)

So what is a sufferer to do? While we can’t attack OA at the root, there is still a viable treatment by proxy: repressing the counter-productive anti-inflammatory response. This might sound a bit defeatist, but as the average GP doesn’t go beyond physiotherapy, lifestyle recommendations, and over-the-counter analgesics (acetaminophen and ibuprofen, for instance), treating OA at the inflammatory level is actually the best strategy we have at our disposal.

Fish oils chiefly comprise Omega 3 oils, of which EPA and DHA are essential to human health. After decades of research, these fatty acids have proven their anti-inflammatory credentials in cardiovascular treatments beyond a doubt. Research on the relation between OA and Omega 3 is only beginning in earnest, but already a Canadian meta-analysis of 17 separate clinical trials on the pain-relief properties of Omega 3 has shown positive results.

They can investigate all they like, as long as the patients say it stops the pain.

By Suzana