Omega-3s and Back Pain
Are you constantly popping over-the-counter pain killers for your neck and back pain? Wishing there was another, more effective way to alleviate your discomfort? Perhaps there is, through omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, are broken down into three types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and are typically found in vegetables, vegetable oil and fish. Known to be beneficial to both mental and physical health, a new study suggests that omega-3’s may also help to greatly reduce neck and back pain.
Dangers of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
About 70 million people in the United States take prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for their chronic pain. Although helpful when used occasionally, these drugs have many adverse side effects, like stomach ulcers, when used regularly and some are known to have dangerous side effects when taken with other medications. Over the years, almost 20,000 people have died from the use of NSAIDs in the U.S. alone. These alarming numbers suggest people should pay attention to studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids as an alternative pain relief method.
Omega 3: Nature’s Pain Relief?
In a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 125 people with spine pain who normally took anti-inflammatory drugs were surveyed to see how omega 3 capsules would affect their discomfort. After being prescribed an omega-3 supplement, participants took 2400mg of omega-3s along with their regular NSAIDs for two weeks. After this, they were given 1200mg of omega-3s per day and asked to stop taking their NSAIDs.
At the end of the study, 60% of study participants noted a reduction in their pain levels. In fact, the omega-3 supplements were so effective, 59% of participants indicated that they had discontinued their use of NSAIDs altogether while 88% said they planned to continue with the omega-3 EFA supplements. No side effects were noted during the study.
The study’s authors noted that omega-3s have a well established anti-inflammatory mechanism. In particular, the fatty acids convert into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Previous research has found omega-3 to reduce the production of arachidonic acid in painful areas of the body.
Pros of Omega-3 fatty Acids
There are a number of benefits to taking omega-3s, including:
- Inhibits the clotting of blood
- Decreases pain
- Boosts the immune system
- Expands blood vessels
Additionally, the FDA has noted that omega-3 EFAs are able to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Cons of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While being able to help the body in many ways, omega-3s, particularly when taken in capsule form, can have some drawbacks. Some of the possible risks associated with consuming too much omega-3 may include:
- Omega 3 overload can lead to excessive bleeding
- Lowering the immune system’s response
- Causing heart problems for people with a history of heart conditions
- Causing glycemic disturbance among diabetics
- Omega-6 deficiency
- Increasing LDL cholesterol
- Potentially harmful to those people who have disorders of the blood or those on blood-thinning medication
Additionally, while fish is an excellent source of omega-3s, some fish, such as shark, swordfish, king, mackerel, and tilefish, may contain environmental contaminants. Women that are pregnant should avoid consuming these fish as a source of omega-3 and instead look for omega-3 supplements made from the body of fish.
The main health issue when taking omega-3 fish oil supplements is that the supplements may contain trace chemicals and heavy metals, like mercury, PCBs, lead, arsenic, cadmium, dioxins. To avoid these health risks, consumers should opt for omega-3 products that are distilled of contaminants at the molecular level. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Fish Oils Standard (IFOS) have published standards for levels of contaminants in fish oil.
Significance for Fibromyalgia Sufferers
Most of the research that has been done regarding the potential of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce pain has been on arthritis sufferers. While it is thought that fibromyalgia sufferers should also benefit from omega-3 pain relief in much the same way, further research needs to be done to determine the exact health benefits to fibromyalgia sufferers.
Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s come in a variety of food products. High levels of omega-3s are found in oily fish like tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and swordfish. Non-fish sources of omega-3s include flax and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, perilla, walnuts, lingonberry and hemp. Omega-3 is also present in vegetables and vegetable oils, and in eggs supplemented with DHA.