Omega-3s and Treatment of Pain
The benefits of omega-3s seem to be in the news everyday. This fatty acid, often referred to as fish oil, has been widely studied in recent years and results suggest that it is effective for the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of health conditions, including:
• Better brain function
• Reduced depression
• Improvement of ADD/ADHD symptoms in children
• Improved cardiovascular health and protection from heart disease
Many of these benefits have been widely publicized. But there are also numerous studies which suggest omega-3s are effective for the treatment of pain.
Patients with chronic pain that is not resolved by treatment of the underlying cause are often faced with the prospect of long-term use of prescription medication as the only option for reducing pain and increasing daily function. Prescription medication, such as narcotic pain killers, often have unpleasant side effects and are potentially addictive. The choice to live with pain or bear the risks associated with the use of prescription pain killers often feels like a no-win situation for people with chronic pain.
Omega-3s have been shown to be a potentially effective third option. Several studies have found patients reporting reduced pain after taking omega-3 supplements for several weeks. These studies have focused on several different types of pain. One study, for example, found that patients with “neuropathic” pain, responded well. Neuropathic pain is pain that is caused by damage to the nervous system, including nerve endings. It is commonly experienced as electrical sensation, burning or “pins and needles” sensation.
Though there were only five patients studied, all had long-term neuropathic pain which interfered with each patient’s ability to perform activities. After several months of taking 2400 to 7200 mg of omega-3, all 5 patients reported a significant decrease in pain and improved ability to function on a daily basis. These result show promise for chronic pain patients faced with the unenviable choice between living with pain or relying on prescription medication.
No adverse effects were noted by any of the patients studied. However, before taking high doses of any supplement, patients should consult their medical providers. Some supplements may interact negatively with other medications or supplements. Omega-3s, for example, tend to thin the blood and can affect blood coagulation and may increase caloric intake, important for patients with conditions such as diabetes.
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