By Dr. Mercola
About one in five adults, or nearly 50 million Americans, have been diagnosed with arthritis, the most common form of which is osteoarthritis.
If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage within your joints is progressively being damaged, and the synovial fluid that keeps your joints lubricated and cushioned is typically reduced as well.
The pain and joint stiffness that you feel is a result of your bones starting to come into contact with each other as cartilage and synovial fluid is reduced, and if you don't take action it can become progressively worse until you are unable to carry out your normal daily activities.
More than 21 million Americans have trouble climbing stairs, getting dressed and staying active due to arthritis, a number that has jumped from 19 million just a few years back.
If you are one of the millions struggling with osteoarthritis, or want to avoid becoming one of them, one of the simplest and most powerful steps you can take is adding animal-based omega-3 fats to your diet. The research continues to pour in that these healthy fats have exciting potential to prevent and treat arthritis.
Omega-3 Fats Incredibly Important to Treat Osteoarthritis
According to the latest animal study, a diet enriched with omega-3 fats reduced the majority of disease indicators among guinea pigs prone to developing osteoarthritis. This included both cartilage and subchondral bone changes, and the lead researcher noted that the evidence was strong that omega-3 fats may help prevent the disease and also slow its progression in those already diagnosed.
Omega-3's impact on joint health, arthritis, and inflammation is an active area of research, as they're known to produce compounds called resolvins and protectins, which help quell inflammation before it can do too much damage to your tissues. Several studies have been published on the remarkable effectiveness of the animal-based omega-3 fat krill oil in combating inflammation-related disorders, including arthritis. Three notable examples are:
- A 2007 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition investigated krill oil's ability to reduce inflammation. Researchers found that 300 mg krill oil per day significantly reduced inflammation, pain, stiffness and functional impairment after just 7 days, and even more profoundly after 14 days.
- A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005 showed similar findings with respect to reducing inflammation and arthritis symptoms, for both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis sufferers.
- A study in Advances in Therapy found participants with moderate-to-severe hip or knee osteoarthritis who received 1,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate along with 200 mg of omega-3 had greater pain reduction and fewer osteoarthritis symptoms (morning stiffness, pain in hips and knees) than those who took glucosamine by itself.
Omega-3 is actually anti-inflammatory in a very general way, which seems to be good for most people in general, even if you're interested in preventing a variety of diseases. For more information about the various health benefits of omega-3 fat, please review the following links:
Are You Deficient in Omega-3 Fats?
Ideally, everyone really needs to aim for a lifetime of high omega-3 levels to reap all the health benefits that it has to offer, including protection from arthritis. However, the average American diet is seriously deficient in the animal-based omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA, as except for certain types of fish, which I don't recommend eating because of pollution concerns, there are very few sources of these crucial fats.
As a result, many are deficient and omega-3 deficiency has actually been called the sixth biggest killer of Americans,
You can now measure the omega-3 level in your blood, thanks to the research of Dr. William Harris, a research professor at the Sanford School of Medicine in South Dakota, and an established authority on omega-3 fats. Dr. Harris' research led to the development of an assay that measures your omega-3 level, which is referred to as the "omega-3 index."
Make Sure You Include a High Quality Animal-Based Source of Omega-3
Most people today are deficient in omega-3 fats and consume far too many damaged omega-6 fats, which are found in vegetable oils and processed foods. The ideal ratio is probably close to 1:1, but the average American's ratio is more like 20:1, or even 50:1 in favor of omega-6. Because of this severe imbalance, I recommend you supplement your diet with a source of high-quality omega-3 fats, while simultaneously reducing your omega-6 intake to bring this ratio into balance.
There are both plant and animal sources for omega-3 fats, and there are differences between them. All have different ratios of three important omega-3 fatty acids—ALA, EPA and DHA. DHA is the most important for your brain. EPA is also required by your brain, but in smaller amounts.
Plant-based omega-3 sources like flax, hemp and chia seeds are high in ALA, but low in EPA and DHA. Although ALA is an essential nutrient, the key point to remember is that the conversion of ALA to the far more essential EPA and DHA is typically inhibited by impaired delta 6 desaturase, an enzyme necessary for you to convert the ALA into the longer chain EPA and DHA. Elevated insulin levels impair this enzyme, and more than 80 percent of the U.S. population has elevated insulin levels. So from that perspective alone, it is important to include animal-based sources of omega-3 fats in your diet.
The Three Types of Animal-Based Omega-3 Fat
When it comes to choosing between the animal-based omega-3 options, the primary sources are fish, fish oil, or krill oil. As I'll explain, I believe krill oil is the far superior choice on this list.
- Fish: In a perfect world, you would be able to get all the omega-3s you need by eating fish. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our fish supply is now so heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants and toxins like mercury, PCBs, heavy metals and radioactive poisons that I just can't recommend most fish any longer. However, there are suppliers, like Vital Choice, that do harvest the fish from less polluted areas of the world and they clearly are less contaminated.
- Fish oil: I used to recommend that you take fish oil to enhance your intake of omega-3 fats, and high-quality fish oils are certainly great products with many important health benefits. However, fish oil is weak in antioxidant content.
This is a major drawback for fish oil, because as you increase your intake of omega-3 fats by consuming fish oil, you actually increase your need for even more antioxidant protection.
This happens because fish oil is quite perishable, and oxidation leads to the formation of unhealthy free radicals. Therefore, antioxidants are required to ensure that the fish oil doesn't oxidize and become rancid inside your body. So, you need to consume additional antioxidants both for your health in general, AND for your increased need for antioxidants when using fish oil. Dr. Rudi Moerck expounded on these risks at great length in a previous interview.
- Krill oil: Last but certainly not least is my preferred choice for animal-based omega-3 fats. I believe krill oil is superior to fish oil because it contains phospholipids that dramatically improve DHA and EPA absorption. It also has a very powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin, and omega-3s bonded together in a way that keeps them protected from oxidation. Many popular fish oil brands are already oxidized before you open the bottle. Krill oil is also 48 times more potent than fish oil and contains vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
Additionally, as Dr. Harris confirms, krill oil is also more potent gram for gram, as its absorption rate is much higher than fish oil. According to his research, you get somewhere between 25 to 50 percent more omega-3 per milligram when you take krill oil compared to fish oil.
"You actually get more omega-3 from eating krill," he says.
Krill is also a completely sustainable and environmentally friendly source of omega-3. Not only is krill the largest biomass in the world, but krill harvesting is one of the best regulated on the planet, using strict international precautionary catch limit regulations that are reviewed regularly to assure sustainability. You can read more about why krill oil is completely environmentally friendly here.
If You Have Arthritis, You Need to Know About Astaxanthin
It is likely that astaxanthin may be even more powerful in helping people with arthritis symptoms than omega-3 fats, as this antioxidant is leaps and bounds more powerful than beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol, lycopene and lutein, other members of its chemical family. It exhibits VERY STRONG free radical scavenging activity and helps protect your cells, organs and body tissues from oxidative damage and inflammation.
Specifically, astaxanthin is a carotenoid antioxidant produced only by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis when its water supply dries up, forcing it to protect itself from ultraviolet radiation. It's the algae's survival mechanism -- astaxanthin serves as a "force field" to protect the algae from lack of nutrition and/or intense sunlight.
There are only two known sources of astaxanthin -- the microalgae that produce it, and the sea creatures that consume the algae (such as salmon, shellfish, and krill). One of the reasons why I recommend krill oil is because it naturally contains astaxanthin to protect it from oxidation. Adding the antioxidant astaxanthin to fish oil reduces its susceptibility to oxidation while making its immunomodulatory properties more potent, which is the beauty of krill oil, which has this natural protection built in.
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But although I don't recommend many supplements, I believe many could enjoy even MORE benefits by further increasing your astaxanthin, even if you are already taking a krill oil supplement. If you decide to give astaxanthin a try on its own, I recommend a dose of 8-10 mg per day. If you are on a krill oil supplement, take that into consideration, as different krill products have different concentrations of astaxanthin, so check your label.
Arthritis Doesn't Have to be a Debilitating Disease
Osteoarthritis can be extremely painful and debilitating disease. By losing weight, exercising, making changes to your diet and lifestyle, and using natural anti-inflammatory relief measures you can potentially overcome this disease, or at least significantly decrease pain associated with it.
- Healthy Diet: Arthritis rates are more than twice as high in obese people as those who are normal weight, because the extra weight puts more pressure on your joints. This can not only lead to osteoarthritis, it can also make the condition exponentially worse.
So if you are suffering from arthritis and are overweight or obese, losing weight is an essential form of treatment. You will want to jumpstart your weight loss by eating a healthier diet based on the principles of my nutrition plan. Limiting your fructose intake to below 15 grams a day will be an essential part of this program.
- Exercise: Most people have little appreciation for how powerful exercise can be in preserving bone density and joint function, which can help prevent and alleviate osteoarthritis as you age.
The notion that exercise is detrimental to your joints is a misconception; there is no evidence to support this belief. Instead, the evidence points to exercise having a positive impact on joint tissues -- if you exercise sufficiently to lose weight, or maintain an ideal weight, you can in fact reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
My most highly recommended form of exercise is Peak Fitness, and this program can be used by virtually everyone. However, if you've already developed osteoarthritis in your knee, you'll want to incorporate exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscle at the front of your thigh. And, rather than running or other high-impact exercise, you may be better off with non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming and bicycling.
People with arthritis must be careful to avoid activities that aggravate joint pain. You should avoid any exercise that strains a significantly unstable joint.
- Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D are associated with cartilage loss in your knees, and this is one of the hallmarks of osteoarthritis. The remedy, to make sure your vitamin D levels are optimized, is simple. It involves getting your blood levels tested, then optimizing them using safe sun exposure or indoor tanning on a safe tanning bed (safe tanning beds have electronic ballasts and produce less UVA than sunshine). As a last resort, you can supplement with vitamin D3; recent research suggests the average adult needs to take 8,000 IU's of vitamin D per day in order to elevate their levels above 40 ng/ml, which is the bare minimum for disease prevention.
To find out the details, watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture.
If you need pain relief, which is typically an important component of osteoarthritis treatment, think long and hard before choosing anti-inflammatory drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics, like Tylenol. NSAIDs kill some 30,000 people every year due to bleeding ulcers, and the oral drugs have been linked to a host of problems including heart failure -- Vioxx and Celebrex are prime examples of these very real dangers.
There are safer, natural anti-inflammatory alternatives available, including:
- Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this Indian herb is one treatment I've found to be particularly useful against arthritic inflammation and associated pain.
- Hyaluronic acid (HA): Hyaluronic acid is a key component of your cartilage, responsible for moving nutrients into your cells and moving waste out.
- Astaxanthin: As mentioned above, astaxanthin is one of the most powerful lipophilic antioxidants yet discovered and is the most abundant carotenoid pigment found in crabs, salmon, trout, shrimp, and krill. Studies have found that it can help support joint health and mobility.
- Eggshell membrane: Elastin, collagen and glycosaminoglycans are three nutrients found in eggshell membranes, which can help support the stability and flexibility of your joints by providing your joints with the building blocks needed to build cartilage.
- Ginger: This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.
- Bromelain: This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful.
- Cetyl myristoleate (CMO): This oil, found in fish and dairy butter, acts as a "joint lubricant" and an anti-inflammatory.
- Evening primrose, black currant and borage oils: These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for treating arthritic pain. It is reasonable for many to take these as a supplement, particularly if you struggle with dry skin in the winter, as this is a strong indicator that you are deficient in these fats. I prefer the use of GLA supplements from evening primrose oil but borage oil contains a higher concentration of GLA, which means you need fewer capsules, and it tends to be less expensive.
- Cayenne Cream: Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting the body's supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmits pain signals to your brain.