Common Sense Health: Weight and Diet Strain Knees and Hips

How many thousands of knee and hip replacements, and how much pain, could be avoided by the right diet?

Arthritis has been called the chronic-care challenge of the 21st century. It is no small problem in economic terms either. A few months ago, The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, published startling statistics. Over the last 30 years, the global incidence of osteoarthritis has risen by132% to 595 million people. There is no sign of the disease slowing down and there’s no cure.

What does this mean? For public healthcare systems like Canada’s, it means ever more costs to the taxbase for higher and higher numbers of expensive knee and hip replacements.

Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” form of arthritis. Like aging car brakes that wear down with use, human joints begin to grate and scrape with age. It’s a fact that heavier vehicles need especially careful maintenance. People carrying excess weight should shed it to avoid unnecessary wear. But arthritis is caused by more than just heavy use and aging. Inadequate nutrition also sets the stage for arthritis.

The famous Framingham Health Study followed thousands of people for 40 years assessing risk factors for osteoarthritis.

The study showed that people with osteoarthritis who consumed over 9,000 international units of beta-carotene a day had decreased progression of this disease and were less likely to suffer from knee pain later in life. A Finnish study showed that people with low levels of beta-carotene were eight times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as they aged. Beta-carotene is present in deep-coloured vegetables and fruits.

The same Framingham study underscored the importance of vitamin D. People with arthritic knees consuming less than 350 units developed arthritis at higher rates than those who took over 400 units a day. There’s good reason why.

Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of calcium. The typical dietary source of vitamin D is milk, one of nature’s nearly perfect foods. But few people drink enough milk daily.

The Framingham study uncovered another vital fact, that our joints need oil. But not all the oils we eat are equal. Our food contains different types of fatty acids. The good omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation; the bad omega-6 fatty acids trigger inflammation.

Obviously, it’s better to have more of the good oils than the bad ones. But North Americans eat 10 times more omega-6 than omega-3, and this sad reality triggers not only arthritis, but also heart disease. Research shows that death from heart attack may be the result of a combination of both clogged and inflamed coronary arteries.

The logical solution is to change our diet. Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables to obtain healthy vitamins. One carrot contains 20,000 international units of beat-carotene and a sweet potato with skin has 25,000 IU. Drink three glasses of milk daily or get the equivalent through supplementation.

Excellent sources of omega-3 are salmon, halibut and sardines. Omega-3 is also found in walnuts, beans, tofu, flaxseed oil, pecans and green leafy vegetables. A high-quality supplement like Certified Natural’s Omega-3X is recommended since few people eat enough of the dietary sources.

To avoid omega-6 oils reduce processed, frozen and boxed foods. Skip the crackers, cookies and most desserts. Buy the right cooking oils. Omega-6 is present in corn, sunflower and cottonseed oil. Olive, soybean and canola cooking oils contain omega-3.

Don’t neglect weight control. The pressure on your knees going upstairs is 2.5 times your body weight. Going downstairs, it is 3.5 times. Squatting amounts to 8 times the pressure. Weight reduction goes far to increasing the benefits of sound nutrition in preventing osteoarthritis.

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