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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

August 1998

Beneficial Oils to Help Treat and Prevent Osteoarthritis

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

Let's continue with the natural treatment and prevention of osteoarthritis (OA), wrapping up this month with a look at fats and oils. In our craze to lose weight, we have obsessively embraced "fat free." However, some fats are necessary and beneficial in our diet. Several help lubricate our joints and are natural anti-inflammatory nutrients. Let's examine how they can be incorporated in a program for long-term joint and overall health. Much of the material for this column has been drawn from two excellent references: Robert Crayhon's Nutrition Made Simple and Luke Bucci's Pain Free.

The problem

While the American diet is too high in fat, with over 40% of calories being from fat, the quantity of processed, sugar and bad-fat laden foods we eat is really the problem. According to nutritionist Robert Crayhon, there are three problems with fat, and they have very little to do with the quantity of fat we eat:

  • We consume too many nonessential fats and not enough essential fats.
  • We eat fats and oils that are too refined and dangerously altered.
  • We do not consume the wide range of nutrients the body needs to handle fats correctly.

Essential and nonessential fats

Of all the fats we consume, only two are essential: linoleic (an omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic (an omega-3 fatty acid). Omega-6 linoleic can be found in all vegetable oils, such as safflower, sunflower and corn oils, most grains and beans. Omega-3 alpha-linolenic is found in deep-sea fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, and vegetable oils, including flaxseed, pumpkin, soy and canola. Omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory; omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. An imbalance contributes to the degeneration of our joints.

In a broader perspective, if we do not get a balance both of these fatty acids on a regular basis, our cell membranes, nervous system, and, hence, our overall health will deteriorate. In the chapter "What is a Healthy Diet?," Crayhon gives an example of the importance omega-3 fat in the diet: "Native Americans of Vancouver, British Columbia, ate salmon as a staple in their diet for hundreds of years. Then a dam was built that destroyed the salmon population. After their dietary source for omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA [which are highly concentrated in the brain] was eliminated, their rate of schizophrenia more than doubled. Their rates of diabetes, alcoholism, migraines, arthritis, and depression increased as well."

While there may be other factors involved, diet was a major contributor to the change for these Native Americans and is a major cause for our poor health, too. For instance, Purdue University researchers have found that boys with low blood levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids have a greater tendency toward attention deficit disorder (ADHD). In a study mentioned in the 11/96 Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, 40 percent of children with ADHD demonstrated symptoms indicative of a fatty acid deficiency.

Refined fats

Commercially manufactured liquid vegetable oils in the United States are refined to an extraordinary degree. The are heated, deodorized, and have many valuable nutrients removed. The vitamin E that is present in unrefined vegetable oils is taken out and sold to the vitamin industry. The lecithin that helps our body emulsify and use fats more effectively is removed. The result is naked oil that is nearly devoid of nutritional value. It is then stored in clear glass that light can penetrate, damaging the oil.

Worse yet, many fats are put through an artificial process called "hydrogenation" to make them solid, such as found in margarine and shortenings, and are present in a wide variety of baked and snack foods. These altered fats do not fit into our metabolism. According to Crayhon, referencing "Dietary Fat and Cancer Trends" in the 1978 Federal Proceedings, no culture has ever used hydrogenated vegetable oils without increasing their rates of disease.

Eating our way into osteoarthritis

Crayhon summarizes the problem:

Many Americans are consuming too many fats of the omega-6 class and not enough of the omega-3 family. Eating meat and safflower, sunflower, and corn oils fills the body with omega-6s. If no flaxseed oil, walnuts, salmon, sardines, or mackerel find their way into your diet, you will have no omega-3 fats to counter the pro-inflammatory effect of the omega-6s. Over a long period of time, this will increase your risk of inflammation and degenerative diseases. Balance among essential fatty acids is critical for long-term health.

Nutritionist Luke Bucci sums up the situation similarly:

Bad fats are found in dairy products, most red meat, shortenings, margarine, and partially hydrogenated oils. Since Americans have been eating foods high in saturated fats for most of this century, it is little wonder that degenerative joint disease is rampant. Just like the experimental mice eating too much lard, many Americans have been eating themselves into osteoarthritis.

Conversion of sugar to fat

Bucci also points out that "any excess amount of sugar, from sweets or starches, will be easily converted by your body's mechanisms into saturated fat. Foods high in sugar are almost never close to their natural state. Foods high in refined starches (like white flour) are quickly and efficiently converted into glucose (blood sugar) by metabolism. It is quite easy to get excess sugar and, therefore, force your body to make even more saturated fat."

Nutritional solutions for maximizing healthy joints

  1. Eat a lower-fat diet, with not more than 25 percent of calories from fat. (I've seen figures from 10 to 30 percent.) This will vary somewhat with your ethnic background and personal metabolism. Focus on eating good, nutritious foods, rather than on calculating percentages.

  2. Greatly limit or even stop eating foods high in saturated fat, such as red meats, dairy products, margarine, shortening, chocolate (cocoa butter), processed snack foods, and fried foods.
  3. Learn how to cook without using extra fat.

  4. Limit the intake of omega-6 containing vegetable oils, such as safflower, sunflower, and corn oils - no more than one tablespoon per day. This is especially important if you have any form of inflammation, including aching joints.

  5. When you use oils, use beneficial omega-3 containing oils, such as flaxseed and canola, from organic sources. (Avoid heating flaxseed oil; use peanut oil instead.) Olive oil is also a good choice, as has been shown in the Mediterranean diet. I suggest intake of one to two tablespoons per day of beneficial oils.

  6. If you are not a vegetarian, eat more fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna.

  7. As an option, add one or two capsules of fish oil as a supplement with each meal. Eating with meals will help minimize any fishy after taste.

  8. Add a gamma linolenic acid (GLA) supplement, one capsule with each meal. GLA assists omega-3 fats to make good, anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Good sources of GLA include evening primrose, blackcurrant seed, and borage seed oils.

  9. Increase consumption of fresh, green, leafy vegetables. Although they are contain relatively low levels of omega-3 fats, green, leafy vegetables contain other healthy nutrients like vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin E, and minerals essential for good health.

  10. Add a vitamin E supplement (d-alpha-tocopherol), 100 to 400 IU per day. This anti-oxidant keeps the omega-3 fats from breaking down in your body.

In summary, eat healthy, stay well-oiled, and keep on dancing!

Next article: Let's take a look at orthotics to help your feet and back.

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