Can specific foods help or worsen rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms? The debate continues as researchers uncover more details about the ways that food may affect RA and inflammation in the body.  Their findings identify foods, vitamins and minerals that may be beneficial or harmful to your disease management and overall health.

Strike a balance with fatty acids. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats found in certain foods. Your body needs a healthy balance of these fats to work properly. Too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 may hurt your health.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in meat and vegetable oils.  Some of these fatty acids provoke inflammatory molecules. Researchers at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in Cork, Ireland, note a striking increase in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the Western diet in the past few decades. They found that a greater ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s coincides with increases in chronic inflammatory diseases such as RA.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon. They help tame inflammation. A 2013 study analyzing the diets of 23,000 women in Sweden indicates that a weekly serving of salmon for a decade cuts the risk of RA in half.  Four servings a week of leaner fish, like cod, appears to provide the same benefit.

Omega-3 fish oil supplements may also be beneficial. A 2012 animal study at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom indicates that fish oil supplements slows the development of arthritis and lessens its severity.  The study points to a review of 23 studies that suggests that omega-3s help reduce RA-related joint symptoms while decreasing a person’s need to use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Omega-3s also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“That’s appealing, given the increased risk of cardiovascular disease among patients with RA,” says Hyon Choi, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine in the section of rheumatology and the clinical epidemiology unit at Boston University School of Medicine.

Dr. Choi says that striking a healthy balance between fatty acids may also help lower the risk of obesity and diabetes, two conditions that often co-exist with RA.  

You can lower your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio by eating more seafood, less fatty meats and fewer processed foods, which often contain oils high in omega-6.  

Ask your doctor if an omega 3 supplement is right for you.  Look for fish oil capsules that contain at least 30 percent of the omega 3s called EPA/ DHA. The recommended dosage for RA and OA is up to 2.6 grams, twice a day.