Prevent and Treat Arthritis With This Common Dietary Fat
Osteoarthritis affects more than 50 million Americans and is ranked as the leading cause of disability in the U.S. ,.
Omega-3 fatty acids, also known as essential fatty acids (EFA’s), is a group comprised of EPA, DHA and ALA.
Known for their ability to inhibit inflammation, these fats are a powerful tool for preventing and treating many forms of arthritis. However, despite growing awareness of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, U.S. national health and nutrition surveys reveal that most Americans don’t obtain enough of these important fats in their diets .
When you hear the term omega-3 fatty acids you might automatically think fish oil, and understandably so.
Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3’s, and has been extensively studied for its benefits to joint health.
One of the ways omega-3’s protects joints is by actively inhibiting pro-inflammatory signaling molecules and actively promoting production of anti-inflammatory molecules .
Omega-3 fats are also the preferred building material for cell membranes.
Joint cells preferentially select omega-3’s over other fats because membranes made from these fats are more fluid, less brittle and are better at sending and receiving messages. When the cell membranes of your tendons, ligaments and cartilage are supple your joints are supple, as well.
For rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, more may be better when it comes to fish oil.
A randomized clinical trial gave high-dose fish oil to one group of RA patients and low-dose fish oil supplements to another.
Disease symptoms went into remission in the high-dose group, with a 1% increase in blood levels of EPA leading to a 12% increase in the likelihood of remission . The high-dose group also experienced better response to an anti-rheumatic drug.
In another RA study, patients who supplemented with omega-3 oils for 12 weeks required less pain medication and received improved scores on disease activity tests administered by rheumatologists .
The essential fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) provides antioxidant benefits in addition to anti-inflammatory activity. EPA protects tendons, ligaments, cartilage and other important joint structures from the effects of oxidative damage, which leads to cell damage and eventually erodes joints.
This was proven in a tissue culture study in which researchers treated human cartilage cells with a drug that, as a side effect, is known to cause oxidative damage and death to cartilage cells .
They observed that the drug by itself caused a 44% rate of cell death while the cells that received a combination of the drug with EPA showed 15% reduced rate of death.
Did You Say Krill?
Fish get their omega-3’s by eating small crustaceans known as krill.
Krill oil has the advantages of being more absorbable than fish oil and having lower levels of mercury contamination.
Krill also might be better at decreasing inflammation. In a laboratory study, krill oil decreased levels of a pro-inflammatory molecule, while fish oil supplementation led to moderate elevations of a different pro-inflammatory molecule .
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts are all excellent plant sources of omega-3’s. Seaweed, winter squash and leafy greens also supply good amounts.
However, plant foods contain mostly ALA, which your body has to convert to EPA and DHA and the conversion mechanism is not very efficient.
A tablespoon of flaxseed oil (equal to about 12,000 mg), for example, provides about 700 mg of EPA and DHA, while the same amount of fish oil provides about 5 times as much .
Omega-3 fatty acids have a blood thinning effect that can lead to low blood pressure and increased risk of bleeding in susceptible individuals.
If you take blood thinning or blood pressure-lowering medication discuss omega-3 supplementation with your doctor for guidance on proper use and dosage.
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