Meta-analysis: marine oil supplements good for arthritis pain?

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  • This meta-analysis suggests a small favourable effect of marine oil in reducing pain and inflammation in patients with arthritis.
  • There is moderate quality evidence for an effect in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but the effect was statistically non-significant in patients with osteoarthritis (OA).

Why this matters 

  • Patients with arthritis often take fish oil supplements for pain relief, but limited evidence exists regarding their efficacy.

Study design

  • 42 trials, involving 2751 patients (mean age, 53.8 y), met eligibility criteria after a search on MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane library.
  • Funding: Not disclosed.

Key results

  • Of the 42 trials, 30 reported complete data on pain.
  • The standardized mean difference (SMD) suggested a favourable pain reducing effect of marine oil (-0.24; P=.007).
  • The overall effect of marine oil on inflammation was significant (SMD, -0.28; P=.013).
  • The favourable effect of marine oil was seen in patients with RA (SMD, -0.21; 22 trials; n=956) and other arthritis diagnoses (SMD, -0.63; 3 trials; n=150), but not in patients with OA (SMD, -0.17; 5 trials; n=403).


  • Heterogeneity between pooled studies.
  • Publication bias and outcome-reporting bias.