How do omega-3 fats help to control inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis?

13 November 2019
Researcher Lucy Norland in a lab.

One of our researchers, Dr Lucy Norling has received new funding for her research ‘Reprogramming resolution in the arthritic joint’, which will investigate the role of omega-3 fats in helping to ‘switch off’ inflammation. This renewed/new funding will support her research until 2024.

Based at Queen Mary University of London, Lucy’s research will also study whether supplementing diet with these omega-3 fats can help this process.

Rheumatoid arthritis and diet

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. In rheumatoid arthritis the immune system causes inflammation that lasts longer than a normal inflammatory response, for example, in response to injury. Eventually the ongoing inflammation causes damage to the joint.

Previous research has shown that rheumatoid arthritis may persist because the body’s usual response that works to resolve (or “switch off”) inflammation does not occur. Omega-3 fats (abundant in fish oils) are converted within the body into molecules that help in this resolving process.

Lucy believes that western-style diets are often low in Omega-3 fats and that increasing levels of these fats could help resolve inflammation and allow tissues and joints to return to normal function.

The aims of Lucy’s research are to understand how lack of dietary omega-3 can lead to problems switching off inflammation. The research will study if changing diet can help stop persistent inflammation in arthritis and even help promote joint repair by reprogramming cells. To do this the researchers will study the effects of omega-3 on human cells in the lab, and in mice with arthritis.

How will this research benefit people with arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects people in different ways and not all treatments work for everyone; many rheumatoid arthritis patients still experience pain and other problems. There is therefore a need to develop new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis to reduce inflammation and help people to better manage the condition.

This research hopes to give us more information about how omega-3 fats control inflammation in arthritic conditions and may lead to further dietary advice to help managing symptoms.

Speaking about her research, Lucy said: “I am confident that by further exploring why inflammation fails to switch off in chronic conditions such as arthritis that I will identify new strategies to treat it. Importantly, the support of this fellowship will also enable me to address fundamental research into the environmental triggers of arthritis including the impact of a western diet and will likely inform dietary changes for improving patient health.”

Current treatments mainly manage symptoms and do not address the repair of joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. This research will lead to a better understanding of the processes that control inflammation in joints and could provide potential targets for new treatments, paving the way towards helping joint repair in arthritis.

Working towards a new treatment

We’re committed to supporting the work of researchers like Lucy, who are leading the way in developing new treatments for arthritis.

Lucy said: “The Senior Fellowship award helps fulfil my aspiration to perform cutting edge science, and train PhD students and researchers in the mechanisms of joint diseases and omega-3 biology.”

“With the support of a Versus Arthritis I aim to establish how the active ingredients of omega-3 fats can switch on repair mechanisms and prevent the aggressive and inappropriate behaviour of cells within the joint tissue”

“The overarching goal of our research is to establish novel leads for the restoration of joint function to ultimately limit disability and improve the lives of patients with arthritis.”

Read more about our current research in rheumatoid arthritis and other MSK conditions.