Fish Oil for Chronic Pain – What you Need to Know

Pain is something we all experience, and it is something we want to get rid of. Strong painkillers can mask pain in the short term, but those come with serious side effects, and they don’t help eliminate what is causing the pain. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the root cause of the pain, and do it in the healthiest way possible, with the least number of side effects.

In this article, we look at the science behind using high quality fish oil supplements to reduce not only pain, but the chronic inflammation that causes the pain in the first place.

There are many different types of pain, but let’s first differentiate between acute and chronic pain.

Acute pain happens when you hit your hand with a hammer, get a bee sting, or accidentally bump your head into a wall. It happens suddenly, and it usually has a simple cause. Once the condition is healed, the acute pain goes away. Fish oil won’t help much at all with this type of acute pain.

Chronic pain is much more persistent. Examples of chronic pain are having arthritis in your joints, consistent headaches or migraines, muscle pain from fibromyalgia, or long lasting neck or back pain. High quality fish oil has the potential to significantly help manage chronic pain.

Although the conditions that lead to chronic pain are vastly different, the root cause of the pain is chronic inflammation.

The NIH discusses the unifying theory of pain

From this article:

“Our unifying theory or law of pain states: The origin of all pain is inflammation and the inflammatory response.”

Ok, so pain is caused by inflammation, but how does fish oil help?

Remember, we are talking about chronic pain, which is caused by chronically high levels of inflammation in the body.

If we hit our hand with a hammer, we want some inflammation to protect and heal this injury. But we don’t want our whole body to have high levels of inflammation all the time.

Unfortunately, many of us in the modern world are living with chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes not just pain, but is often called a “silent killer” because it can lead to heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer, and many other horrible diseases.

Fish oil helps reduce chronic pain because fish oil lowers chronic inflammation directly.

omega 3 for fish oil

It’s actually the omega 3’s, DHA and EPA, in fish oil that lower inflammation, thereby lowering pain.

Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, and they increase inflammation in the body.

An important point is that we really want to consume a balanced ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. There is some debate over the healthiest ratio of omega 6 : omega 3 fatty acids in our diets. Some experts say 1:1 is the best. Others say up to 4:1 is still ok.

Regardless, most people aren’t even close to that ratio. Many people consume 20:1 omega 6 to omega 3’s in their diet, or even worse. Some people get virtually no omega 3’s at all.

Most people eat far too many omega 6 fatty acids. We get high levels of omega 6 from:

  • Potato chips
  • Crackers
  • Cookies
  • Most bread
  • Sunflower oil
  • Packaged snack foods

We also get omega 6 from healthy sources like:

  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts

An article by Harvard Health points out it is better to increase your intake of omega 3’s rather than to reduce your intake of omega 6’s to improve the ratio of omega 6: omega 3, and therefore improve your overall health. They correctly point out that some omega 6 fatty acids are healthy and necessary.

We’d like to add a major caveat though, and that is that most people are getting far too many omega 6 fatty acids from the packaged snacks they eat. The reason most people are eating far too many omega 6 isn’t because they are eating too much tofu and too many walnuts, it’s the packaged stuff. So for the vast majority of people, cutting out most of their omega 6’s is the way to go, in addition to eating significantly more omega 3’s.

If you are eating anywhere near the SAD (Standard American Diet), then you are overdoing the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio by a long shot. This is even true if you think you are eating healthy. The only way this ratio will be in a healthy balance is if you really go out of your way to eat a lot of omega 3’s, and you also go out of your way to get omega 6 fatty acids only from natural and healthy sources. It won’t happen randomly.

Choosing a fish oil

There are a lot of fish oil supplements on the market, and most of them aren’t great. If you want the pain relieving and other health benefits from fish oil supplements, you need to choose a high quality product. Fish oil is by definition just any oil from any type of fish. This is not going to cut it.

Look for a fish oil supplement that is:

  • Has zero mercury and other toxic heavy metals
  • High in both DHA and EPA (many are not)
  • In the natural and highly absorbing triglyceride form (most are in ethyl ester form)
  • From a clean source (like anchovies in Iceland)
  • Encapsulated in a way to avoid going rancid quickly
  • Preferably deodorized and flavored naturally with lemon oil to avoid fish burps and aftertaste

Try our premium grade fish oil here

Learn more information on choosing a high quality fish oil.

Check with your doctor

We always recommend checking with your doctor or healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplements. Fish oil may interact with blood thinning and some other medications.

How much fish oil should I take to reduce pain and inflammation?

There have been so many different studies done using fish oil, and each study uses different amounts. There is no agreed upon optimal dosage.

The RDI for men is: 1600 mg of total omega 3’s per day (DHA + EPA)
The RDI for women is: 1100 mg of total omega 3’s per day (DHA + EPA)

Up to 3000 mg of total omega 3 is generally considered safe.

Some people take even more than that, but as mentioned above, always check with your doctor, especially if you are taking other medications and/or planning on a larger than generally recommended dosage.

What is the science behind fish oil for reducing pain?

Here are a few scientific studies discussing this:

Study 1:

This was a 16 week double blind study of overweight individuals with chronic osteoarthritis. They took 2000 mg of DHA and 400 mg of EPA from fish oil per day. The results showed that the fish oil group had statistically significant improvements in pain reduction and improved microvascular function and well-being. 

Study 2:

This study looked at patients who were experiencing neck and back pain. These patients were on prescription NSAID’s, which are anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. They took 1200 mg of DHA and EPA from fish oil daily, and the majority noticed significant improvements in pain reduction. 59% of the people in the study even discontinued their prescription NSAID medication. 

Study 3:

This study showed that increasing omega 3 intake and decreasing omega 6 intake (improving the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3) decreased both the frequency and severity of migraines in patients with chronic migraine. 

Try our 88Herbs premium grade fish oil here

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Andrew Best

Cofounder - Director of R&D

Andrew educates consumers about the latest scientific research in the natural health supplement field.

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