Omega 6: Omega 3 Ratio And Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a thoroughly researched condition in health due to the high prevalence in society and unfortunately the debilitating impact on quality of life.  Knee Osteoarthritis is a very common condition seen at Bend + Mend. Our Physio, Alice has written two great blogs on What Osteoarthritis is, and some exercises to assist with Pain Management.  This blog will be diving into the relationship between diet and osteoarthritis.

There is now a wealth of evidence to show that inflammation plays a central role in the development of osteoarthritis, whether it be local inflammation due to tissue damage or systemic related inflammation.  Inflammation has been shown to promote synovial inflammation (joint swelling), it is a driving force in cartilage degeneration and contributes to joint pain.

Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with lowering levels of inflammatory markers, pain reduction and improved cognitive/emotional functioning.  While Omega 3 have shown positive effects on inflammation, Omega 6 Polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with the promotion of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and autoimmune conditions.

There has recently been a good deal of research observing the relationship between Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids. Both fatty acids are required in our diet, but the ratio in how we consume these fatty acids can have an influence on our health and well-being.  Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 being 1:1, whereas current Western diets have a ratio of 15:1.  It has been observed that excessive Omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and a very high omega 6/omega 3 ratio promote cardiovascular disease, some cancers, systemic inflammation and autoimmune conditions.

A recent study published in July 2018 in Clinical Journal of Pain, observed the diet of 167 adults suffering with knee osteoarthritis.  The study took blood samples of the participants and plasma Omega 6 to Omega 3 rations were determined from the samples.  The participants were assessed on pain sensitivity, functional limitations and psychosocial distress.  The findings from this study confirmed the hypothesis that a high Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio is associated with higher levels of pain sensitivity, decreased functional capacity and higher levels of psychosocial distress when compared to those with a lower ratio.

Omega 3 is found in many foods, such as salmon, eggs, walnuts, leafy greens.  Omega 6 is found in most vegetable oils including Sunflower oil, Corn oil, Soybean Oil, Cottonseed Oil, as well as processed meats, chicken, pork and beef.

Our diets will always have a higher proportion of Omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids, but the goal is to reduce this ratio by either reducing Omega 6 intake and/or increasing Omega 3 fatty acids.  Further research is required to determine whether decreasing omega 6 fatty acids and increasing omega 3 intake will reduce pain levels in those with knee Osteoarthritis, but this research does highlight the multifactorial approach to managing Osteoarthritis.

If you need some advice on managing your PA come and see one of our Physios at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD.

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