Osteoarthritis: Good Oils versus Bad Oils and Inflammation

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

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Osteoarthritis: Good Oils versus Bad Oils and Inflammation
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder and afflicts one out of two Americans at some point in their lifetime. This disease has many causes including diets high in Omega 6 causing cartilage, bone, and synovial fluid breakdown. If you are one of the 33 million individuals who uses and finds pain relief when using NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, Celebrex, etc), this means you are running low on the good Omega 3 oils and have way too much Omega 6 and arachidonic acid in your system. NSAIDS block the production of arachidonic acid caused by the pro-inflammatory effects of Omega 6 but does nothing to support healthy function of anti- inflammatory pathways PGE1 and PGE3 as Omega 3 oils do in the body. Be careful of NSAIDs use, there are serious health consequences such as GI bleeding, ulcers, and death that can occur with use.

Good Oils versus Bad Oils? Depends on the Balance

The human body has an amazing array of tools to deal with pain and inflammation. However, when the body gets out of balance, there are consequences and things break down. This breakdown can include the development of arthritis. We now understand that proper diet is the best prevention of inflammation and thus, arthritis.

The balance of Omega 6 oils to Omega 3 oils is vital to managing inflammation. These oils are also called essential fatty acids. They are considered essential because the body must get them from the foods that we eat on a daily basis. The body cannot make these essential fatty acids from anything else. As you will learn in this article, the balance of the fats is critical for health. Over the last several decades, packaged and processed foods, fast foods, and modern agriculture has all reduced the intake of good anti-inflammatory Omega 3 oils (DHA, EPA, and ALA), while increasing Omega 6 oils intake (LA and AA). The good Omega 3 oils are generally found in wild caught fatty cold water fish (salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines, etc.) and from specific plants such as chia, flax, and hemp seeds. Many individuals however have trouble converting plant sourced Omega3 (ALA) into DHA and EPA because of nutritional deficits (insufficient zinc, B6, or iron) or genetic inability. This leaves fish oils as the best way to get Omega 3. Omega 6 oils are commonly found in vegetable oils, canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, pumpkin, walnut, soybeans, conventional eggs, avocados, nuts, whole grain breads/wheat, and more.

It may be puzzling to hear that some of the foods that you thought had good oils actually are listed as Omega 6 oils. Many foods often have both oils present, but there are some surprises as you will see. Walnuts contain 562 mg of Omega 3 and 9260 mg of Omega 6 per ounce. Avocados contain 30.8 mg of Omega 3 and 473 mg of Omega 6 per ounce. Compare this to known fats/oils that are chronically problematic such as corn oil which contains 325 mg Omega 3 and 14983 mg Omega 6 per ounce. Grains also contain omega oils, for example one slice of wheat bread contains 33.8 mg Omega 3 and 325 mg of Omega 6. If you are interested in learning more about nutrition facts for the foods that you consume, there are several websites that offer this information.

Where do you fit in?

The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is the most important thing to consider when evaluating your diet and inflammation. A ratio between 4:1 and 1:4 Omega 6 to Omega 3 is the range which is considered generally anti-inflammatory. The optimal ratio is 1:1. Anything over 5:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 is pro-inflammatory. The typical American diet, even a generally healthy one, is typically well over 13:1 ratio.

Here is an example:
Breakfast: two slices whole wheat toast, two eggs scrambled, two slices of bacon, and one small glass of orange juice.

Lunch: ham slice one ounce, cheddar cheese one slice, two slices whole wheat bread, baby carrots one ounce, raw almonds one ounce.

Dinner: chicken breast, broiled 3.5 ounces, baked potato, one cup green leaf lettuce with one serving Caesar dressing, one ounce raw walnuts, and one cup vanilla ice cream.

Total Omega 6 intake = 3088 mg
Total Omega 3 intake = 234 mg
Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio for this day = 13:1 >>>>> Proinflammatory

As you can see, this day is dramatically out of balance. What is even more surprising from this dietary example is the out of balance in fats doesn’t come from the bacon, ham, ice cream, or vegetables; it comes from the wheat bread, chicken, almonds, walnuts, and salad dressing. See for yourself here.

If this is not mind boggling enough, consider the quality of the oils and foods that we take in. Wild caught, pasture raised, cage free, grain free animal product make a substantial positive impact on the quality and ratio of the oils in our food supply and actually have anti-oxidant properties even when they have higher amounts of Omega 6. However, grain fed, conventional farmed product negatively influences the balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 oils. Feeding grains to livestock adds in even more Omega 6 oils and reduces content of good oils from lack of pasture grazing. Another factor is raw versus roasted seeds and nuts. Raw seeds and nuts have a much healthier content of Omega 3 oils with much less damaged Omega 6 oil content than roasted seeds and nuts. This is not only because of the added oils in roasting, but also because fats are oxidized when roasted and become even more pro-inflammatory. Avocados, almonds, and walnuts do have benefit when consumed raw and in balance with other healthier choices, but stay away from roasted nuts. It is obvious that we have strayed from the more natural to the more processed, altered foods over the last century and our bodies have taken a toll from it.

If the dietary example listed above represents a common day for you or, even worse, your diet is filled with fast or prepackaged foods, think about the long term trend. If you consistently have a diet like this, day in and day out, month and month, and year after year, you will pay the price. Inflammation sets in and you become the one out of two individuals who has arthritis and the “Golden Years” aren’t so golden after all. Your life becomes fraught with pain, disability, and loss of function and you start reaching for the pain medication. Also remember that this diet doesn’t just impact arthritis and inflammation. Memory, cognition, mood, nerve cells, heart, cell membranes and receptor sites, leptin, adrenals, thyroid, leaky gut syndrome and gut health, skin, energy, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, obesity, and even death are all impacted by the imbalance of Omega 3s. Also consider your kids or grandkids and their diets. Get the picture – Houston, we have a problem!


So what does one do? Here are some basic guidelines. Follow The Leptin Diet. Avoid GMO foods (soybean, corn and HFCS, canola, cottonseed, and sugar beets) and high glycemic index foods in conjunction with changing your oil to reduce inflammation even further. Work on reducing Omega 6 and increasing Omega 3 intake. Consume foods with anti-inflammatory Omega 6:3 ratios. These include fruits, vegetables, potato, sweet potato, grass fed meat, grass fed/free range poultry, wild game, pastured eggs, fresh cold water fatty fish, flax, hemp, and chia seeds, and some farm raised salmon.

Reduce or omit foods with pro-inflammatory Omega 6:3 ratios. These include roasted seeds, nuts and nut butters, grain-fed beef, pork, and poultry, farmed raised fish, grains, potato/corn chips, etc, and Omega 6 seed oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, peanut, and rapeseed/canola, are some of the worst offenders). Farmed raised cold water fatty fish will still have some benefit, but it is still best to avoid or reduce consumption of it and choose wild caught. Eat seeds and nuts in their natural raw state. Avoid any food or food product with partially hydrogenated oils or Trans fats as these are the absolute worst offending oils for promoting inflammation.

As mentioned earlier, strive towards an optimal balance of 1:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3. Every time you have something with plant based Omega 6 oil or conventionally raised animal products fed with Omega 6 grains/oils, balance it out with a food source that has higher amounts Omega 3 oils. If possible, change your diet to include organic, free-range meats, eggs, and dairy. Get to know your local organic farmers, CSA groups, farmers markets and support them. If you have a higher need for good oils because you have a history of inflammation or high dietary intake of Omega 6 oils, add a high quality fish oil product that contains DHA and EPA.

In summary, there are two major indications that you need an oil change - having a diet high in Omega 6 oils and a history of taking NSAIDs and having pain reduction. Blood tests are also available if you need proof of your omega oil status and balance, but there are no tests for NSAIDS deficiency. You might be really surprised if you haven’t checked these compounds before. It may even save your life. Start with the dietary changes as discussed above. Add in nutritional support including 2 grams or more of the good Omega 3s DHA and EPA. Also consider adding good Omega 6 oil GLA for healthy PGE2 support. And as discussed in last week’s article, too much arachidonic acid breaks down synovial fluid. Hyaluronic Acid is the best nutrient to protect synovial fluid.

Next week’s article will have continued discussion of how to reduce pain, inflammation and joint wear and tear with other good choices.

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