High Levels of Omega 6 Fatty Acids Found in Bones of Osteoarthritis Patients Worsens Joint Breakdown

Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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High Levels of Omega 6 Fatty Acids Found in Bones of Osteoarthritis Patients Worsens Joint Breakdown
Osteoarthritis (OA) or commonly just called arthritis profoundly impacts adults in the United States. It is the most frequent cause of disability among adults in the USA. Epidemiological studies from 2005 show that there were at least 27 million adults with diagnosed arthritis and was the fourth most common cause of hospitalization. The cost and care for persons with OA is staggering with disability, hospitalizations, joint replacements, medications, and not to mention the cost of assisted living or nursing home care as the disease progresses and as Baby Boomers age. The bill for over 900,000 knee and hip replacements alone in 2009 was over $42 billion!

The quest for understanding osteoarthritis has taken many different turns over the years. It was commonly thought to be caused by chronic wear and tear, trauma, overuse, and the normal process of aging. Then as the obesity epidemic came along, that seemed to play a significant part in the development of more individuals with OA due to altered biomechanics and the stress of carrying extra weight on the skeletal frame caused tissue breakdown. That theory was later updated to include the understanding of the inflammation caused by the adipose tissue acting as a pro-inflammatory endocrine organ.

While the above factors are still relevant, there is another perspective with osteoarthritis that we need to understand and take to heart as this daily habit can be easily changed with simple dietary choices. Research has shown that individuals who consume foods with high levels of Omega 6 fatty acids actually have markedly higher amounts of arachidonic acid in their cartilage, bone, and synovial fluid and as a result had substantial breakdown in their joints, i.e. the development osteoarthritis. Omega 6 oils are commonly found in various plants, nut and seed oils, i.e. vegetable oil, soy, safflower, sunflower, corn, almonds, cashews, etc.

Interestingly, articular cartilage which is the smooth, white tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints, is one of the very few body tissues that has substantial stores of lipid/fat deposits. Lipid droplets are accumulated by cartilage cells. The types of lipids/fats that accumulate by the cartilage cells determine if the fatty acids are protective or if they are destructive. The amount of arthritis actually correlates with the amount and type of fatty acid, and especially with the amount of arachidonic acid present within the cartilage cells. This means that higher levels of arachidonic acid, led to higher levels cellular breakdown in the cartilage and synovial fluid.

Arachidonic acid is a metabolite of the Omega 6 fatty acids and a precursor for prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). PGE2 is known to be one of the most powerful pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Eicasonoids are signaling molecules in the prostaglandin pathways that are highly influenced by dietary fats. Omega 3 oils do not produce arachidonic acid, whereas Omega 6 oils do. While we need a small amount of arachidonic acid for cell membranes, brain health, energy production etc, in higher amounts archidonic acid stimulates this highly inflammatory pathway. As a result, pain, inflammation, and tissue breakdown occurs.

A key point to understand is the fact that osteoarthritis is markedly worsened by the actual build up of Omega 6 oils and arachidonic acid in the cartilage, synovial fluid, and bones with consequential destruction. This is like putting WD 40 in place of motor oil in your car and expecting the vehicle to run without any problems. Too much arachidonic acid and Omega 6 oils do not work well in the human body. Omega 6 oils must be kept in a healthy ratio with Omega 3 fish oils. With our modern lifestyle, the ratio is commonly an unhealthy 15 to 1 ratio or higher of Omega 6 to Omega 3. This ratio of higher amounts of Omega 6 to Omega 3 puts the body into more inflammation and takes a toll. The western diet has shifted into this balance over the last 100 years because of industrialization and modern society. Prior to this dietary shift, the intake of Omega 6 to Omega 3 was closer to a ratio of 1 to 1 or even 1 to 3. Omega 3 oils are powerful anti-inflammatory oils that can counteract potential negative effects from too much dietary intake of Omega 6 and help reduce pain and inflammation. When you put in the good Omega 3 oils, this will build into and protect the cartilage and synovial fluid from breaking down from inflammation and arachidonic acid. Putting in the good Omega 3 oils into the diet in substantial quantities, is like taking your car in for an oil change and putting in some fresh, clean motor oil. It just makes the body work better and clearly makes an impact on joint health.

Because of this arachidonic acid excess in the joint damages synovial fluid, it is also vital to protect that synovial fluid. The single best compound that protects and helps support the product of synovial fluid is hyaluronic acid. Read more about the best absorbable form of hyaluronic acid.

So where do we get all of this Omega 6 fatty acid build-up. It is in our diet. This is plain and simple. Lifelong daily exposure to different types of fats determines what will end up protecting or harming our joints as we age. Next week’s newsletter article will focus on a deeper discussion of good oils versus bad oils and management of osteoarthritis. For now, know that if you have osteoarthritis, you may be in need of an oil change!

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