Life Extension Update
Fish oil relieves neck and back pain
The results of a study published in April, 2006 issue of the journal Surgical Neurology reported that omega-3 fatty acid supplements were effective for the majority of individuals who used them to treat neck or back pain.
Joseph Charles Maroon, MD and Jeffrey W. Bost PAC of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center conducted a study of 250 individuals who had been seen by a neurosurgeon with nonsurgical neck or back pain. Participants were advised to consume 1200 milligrams per day of the omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish oil from March to June, 2004. The subjects received questionnaires concerning their response approximately one month after beginning the treatment.
Half of the participants returned their questionnaires after an average of 75 days on fish oil. Sixty percent reported an improvement in overall pain, and the same percentage reported an improvement in joint pain. Satisfaction concerning their improvement was reported by 80 percent. Eighty-eight percent of the participants stated they would continue with the fish oil, and 59 percent discontinued taking prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Unlike NSAIDs, which can have adverse effects, no significant side effects were associated with omega-3 essential fatty acid supplementation.
"That close to two thirds of patients could discontinue NSAIDs is certainly provocative, especially given the recent FDA warnings regarding their complications," the authors note. They conclude, “Our results mirror other controlled studies that compared ibuprofen and omega-3 EFAs demonstrating equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. Omega-3 EFA fish oil supplements appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain in this selective group.”
In many cases, chronic pain is caused by an underlying condition, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Treating the underlying condition is an effective way of relieving pain.
Essential fatty acids have special value in fighting pain. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid derived from evening primrose, borage, and black currant oils (Leventhal LJ et al 1994). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are omega-3 fatty acids that are derived from flax and perilla and are found in fish oils (Mahan LK et al 1996). These essential fatty acids are important in manufacturing prostaglandins E1 and E3, which help to reduce inflammation and pain, while reducing proinflammatory prostaglandin E2 (Mahan LK et al 1996). In fact, infusions of prostaglandin E1 are commonly used to treat intermittent claudication, a painful, chronic, vascular condition caused by poor blood flow.
The omega-3 fatty acids have been found not only to protect against heart disease but also to reduce the inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Studies show that patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience a decrease in joint stiffness and tenderness after 3 months of treatment with omega-3 fatty acids (Fortin PR et al 1995; Kremer JM et al 1985). Other studies have found that patients who consume fish oil were able to significantly reduce their intake of NSAIDs, compared with subjects in a control group (Lau CS et al 1993; Skoldstam L et al 1992).
Part of the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids may come from their ability to inhibit proinflammatory cytokines (such as TNF-alpha and IL-6) (James MJ et al 1997).
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