Arthritis – The Dietary Connection

It used to be thought that what you eat really has no effect on the pain and inflammation of arthritis.

However, there is now dramatic evidence that diet does, in fact, affect compounds in our body, which can either stimulate or suppress inflammation. The pain associated with arthritis is really the result of this inflammation. Inflammation in the body is mediated or caused by compounds such as prostaglandins and cytokines. What diet enables us to do is provide a balance between the compounds that promote or cause inflammation and those that block inflammation.

Here's how it works: What you eat determines the levels of inflammatory compounds in your body. One of the building blocks for inflammatory compounds is linoleic acid, which is especially concentrated in vegetable oils such as safflower, soy and sunflower oils. Your body converts linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, to a substance called arachidonic acid. An enzyme called COX-2 then converts arachidonic acid to prostaglandin E2, which can inflame joints and lead to pain. From a simple point of view, this means that vegetable oils high in omega-6s should be minimized in your diet. Instead, use non-inflammatory oils such as extra virgin olive oil or canola oil.

God designed our bodies to balance the compounds that cause inflammation with non-inflammatory compounds such as the omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in cold-water fish, like fresh salmon and tuna, as well as flaxseed and leafy green vegetables. Given an ample supply of these agents, the body converts these omega-3 fatty acids into non-inflammatory-type prostaglandins.

INFLAMMATORY DISORDERS ON THE RISE

Many scientists now feel that we are facing more and more inflammatory disorders, such as arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia because of our imbalanced intake of omega-6 versus omega-3 fatty acids. In times past, people consumed pretty close to equal amounts of the two types of fatty acids, which kept inflammation in check. Over the past three to four decades, however, Americans have increasingly consumed more of the omega-6 fatty acids, and some estimates indicate that we are now eating 10 to 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. This sets the stage for a powerful, ongoing inflammatory reaction in the body. Inflammation is now implicated in heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and stroke.

In addition, scientists at the University of California in Berkeley estimate that chronic inflammation and infection contribute to nearly a third of all cancers. Also, research shows that inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids increase colon cancer, whereas omega-3 fatty acids prevent colon cancer. If you take the traditional American diet, which has way too many omega-6 fatty acids, and combine it with too little of the antioxidant vitamin E, you really make things worse in a hurry. Inflammatory compounds trigger the release of more tissue-damaging free radicals, and if you are low in vitamin E and other antioxidants, a vicious destructive cycle is set up in your body. Few people are getting adequate antioxidant protection through their diet. A minimum of seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables is needed. Among Americans, this is rare.

BRINGING BACK THE BALANCE

So how do you get the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids back into proper balance? First, you should exchange most vegetable oils for olive oil. (Olive oil is high in the non-inflammatory omega-9 fatty acid.) By removing processed foods from your diet, along with tossing a salad with olive oil, steaming your vegetables and baking your chicken, you will be well on your way to restoring the balance.

If you are fighting arthritis, you need specific nutrients and herbs, such as glucosamine and boswellia. The imbalance, however, exists deep within your body cells. Therefore, the quickest way to restore balance is with supplements. I recommend immediately adding a daily supplement to decrease inflammation in your body and restore the omega-6 to omega-3 balance. If you are fighting arthritis, you should also consider nutrients and herbs, such as glucosamine and boswellia. However, I recommend that everyone adopt a program of daily supplements that fight inflammation. These include the following:

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids – These are the omega-3s (EPA, DHA and alpha-linolenic acid) found in fish oil and flax seed oil. They help stop the COX-2 enzyme and block the inflammatory prostaglandins while promoting the non-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) – Though technically an omega-6 fatty acid, GLA is a unique, non-inflammatory type that can help reduce arthritic symptoms when taken daily.

Tocopherols and Tocotrienols – We used to just recommend that people take vitamin E, but we now have more evidence that the whole family of vitamin E compounds is beneficial. Natural d-alpha tocopherol is the form of vitamin E we should take daily. Vitamin E will counter the effects of COX-2 and prostaglandin E2, which promote inflammation. Vitamin E, however, is part of a family of compounds and should be used in combination with natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. In nature, tocopherols and tocotrienols always occur together and they work best when taken together in a supplement. One study found that arthritic patients taking supplements of natural vitamin E for four months had a 50 percent reduction in joint pain.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C will always be high on the list of compounds that fight inflammation. It also protects cells from the free-radical damage caused by inflammation.

Polyphenols and Flavonoids – I recommend that patients take polyphenols daily because they also help control the inflammatory process. Green tea is an excellent source of these polyphenols. Another important compound is the flavonoid, quercetin, which blocks inflammation. All these work well when combined with grape seed and grape skin extracts. If you make the dietary changes noted here and combine them with a daily supplement that includes these important compounds, you can help your body overcome arthritis and other types of inflammatory conditions.

My Joint Support formula taken with Basic Nutrient Support has all the important nutrients and herbs essential for joint health. Taken together, in conjunction with a healthy diet, they can keep your body's omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in balance, which is crucial to preventing inflammation that can lead to so many distressing diseases.