What is flaxseed oil?

Flaxseed oil, which can be bought over the counter in capsule form, is rich in ALA. This fatty acid can help in reducing joint inflammation. Limited evidence suggests that flaxseed oil isn’t effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and we don’t yet know how safe it is.

  • Family: Herbal medicine of the Linaceae family
  • Scientific name: Linum usitatissimum
  • Other names: Linseed, brown, golden flaxseed

The flax plant is native to Egypt but grown in many places, including Europe and the United States. Oil from the plant seeds is used to treat several diseases and you can buy it from high-street retailers.

How does it work?

Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 essential fatty acid that’s important for maintaining a joint’s cell structure and function. ALA is made into two important compounds within your body – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both DHA and EPA play a significant role in making anti-inflammatory substances in your blood called prostaglandins.

Flaxseed oil also contains some chemicals called lignans, which have antioxidant properties, so they’ve been used to prevent heart (cardiovascular) disease.

Is it safe?

Side-effects include:

  • stomach discomfort
  • rashes
  • breathing difficulties.

In theory, flaxseed may increase blood sugar levels and the risk of bleeding, so you should be cautious about using it if you take anticoagulants.

We don’t yet have a recommended safe dose for the use of flaxseed in musculoskeletal conditions.

Trials for rheumatoid arthritis

In this trial, 22 participants with rheumatoid arthritis were randomly selected to be treated with either flaxseed oil or a placebo medication for three months.

  • The levels of EPA and DHA in participants’ blood didn’t rise.
  • The two treatment groups showed no difference with respect to symptom reporting, laboratory findings and clinical signs on physical examination.