Fish Oil and Joint Pain: What You Need to Know

Close up of a woman holding omega-3 fish oil capsules and a glass of water.

Fish oil from cold-water fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. The word “fatty” in the term might not be appealing, but these fats are important to your health. They play a key role in keeping your joints properly lubricated and in overall joint tissue maintenance. 

Those benefits, in turn, can help prevent or reduce joint pain. As little as a gram of fish oil daily can also reduce symptoms like tenderness, morning stiffness, discomfort, and swelling in joints. Servings of 1-3 grams are common.

Fish Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Several species of fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. They include:

  • Salmon
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Cod
  • Lake trout
  • Herring

Canned, light tuna also contains plenty of fatty acids.

Some people, including pregnant women, should limit their consumption of certain types of fish, so it’s important to talk with your doctor before increasing your fish intake. 


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Which is Better: Eating Fish or Taking a Fish Oil Supplement?

You can get more fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids — to help with joint pain and for other health benefits — either by increasing the amount of cold-water fish you cook and eat or by taking a fish oil supplement. Which is better for you? There’s no clear-cut answer to that question. 

It’s hard to argue against getting your nutrients the “old-fashioned way”—that is, by eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes all the nutrients you need. That said, the convenience of fish oil supplements is a tremendous benefit. 

Buying, preparing, and eating fish requires much more time and effort (and probably cost) than taking the recommended dose of a fish oil supplement each day. For many people, a good, sustainable, and cost-effective nutritional strategy is to make cooked fish a regular part of their diet and to consume a fish oil supplement on days when they don’t eat fish. 

Fish Oil Supplement Safety and Side Effects

The CDC says fish oil supplements are generally considered safe. Just be sure you follow the recommendations on the bottle. Fish oil supplements can cause minor side effects in some people, including:

  • Heartburn
  • Fishy aftertaste
  • Bad breath
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea 
  • Rash

For this reason, it’s a good idea to increase your fish oil intake gradually—over days or weeks. That’ll give your body time to adjust and help prevent side effects. Also, be aware that taking fish oil supplements at high doses may also increase the risk of bleeding and stroke. 

Fish oil supplements can interact with certain medications like anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, blood pressure medications, and contraceptives. They may also interact with certain herbs and other supplements. For that reason, it’s important to tell your doctor about all the medications, herbs, and supplements you take when talking about whether increasing your fish oil intake is a good idea. 

Learn More About Joint Pain and Fish Oil from Baptist Health

Your Baptist Health physician is happy to talk with you about joint pain, fish oil, and other treatments. Make an appointment today to discuss how to minimize your joint pain and maximize your enjoyment of life. Find a provider near you using our online provider directory or by calling our Patient Connection Hub.


Next Steps and Useful Resources:

Download Your New Patient Packet
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Do More Than You Think
Does Weather Affect Joint Pain?
[PODCAST] Don’t Shrug Off Shoulder and Elbow Pain

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