New research shows that Omega-3 in fish oil may reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis significantly by slowing down or preventing its occurrence.

However researchers warned it will still take more studies to determine if Omega-3 can be used as a way to treat the disease.

The Omega-3 fatty acid can be obtained from eating fish oil from tuna, salmon, mackerel and trout or other sources including walnuts, flax seed, soybeans and kidney beans.

Guinea pigs prone to the disease which ate diets rich in omega-3 were 50 percent less likely to become ill compared with those who ate a standard diet.

The study published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage was carried out by researchers at the University of Bristol. It was funded by Arthritis Research UK.

Dr. John Tarlton, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of veterinary sciences said conditions such as degradation of collagen in cartilage were reduced by omega-3.

"Furthermore, there was strong evidence that omega-3 influences the biochemistry of the disease, and therefore not only helps prevent disease, but also slows its progression, potentially controlling established osteoarthritis," Tarlton said.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is characterized by degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint as well as bony overgrowth. The breakdown of the tissue eventually leads to pain and joint stiffness, commonly affecting the knees, hips and hands according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC).

Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, affects an estimated 27 million adults in the United States in 2005, in 2007-2009, 50 percent of adults 65 years or older reported arthritis diagnosis (CDC data).

Omega-3 Research so Far

Medical research director of Arthritis Research UK, Professor Alan Silman put the latest findings in context of previous studies.

"The possibility that omega-3 fatty acids could prevent osteoarthritis from developing has been a tantalizing one. Some limited, previous research in dogs has suggested that we were a long way away from understanding the potential use in humans. However, this current research in guinea pigs is exciting as it brings us closer to understanding how omega-3 might fundamentally interfere with the osteoarthritis process, and that it could potentially be taken as a treatment."

Tarlton said research would continue.

“Further studies are needed to determine the influence of omega-3 fatty acids on established disease in guinea pigs, and to confirm the effects in human osteoarthritis,” Tarlton said.