Naturopathic doctors have historically recognized inflammation as the root cause of most chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. Today, doctors in the allopathic or conventional paradigm now also recognize inflammation as an underlying cause of cardiovascular disease.
The therapeutic benefits of fish oil and flax seeds are numerous. Fish oil and flax seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. They are termed essential because the human body cannot synthesize them so they must be obtained from the diet. They are involved in many physiologic processes, and a deficiency of them is implicated as a causal factor in many chronic conditions, including hormonal imbalances, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and eczema.
Physiologic Role of Essential Fatty Acids
Both fish oil and flax seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, producing anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic effects (thinning the blood). They also have a beneficial impact on one’s lipid profile, for they increase HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides. This translates to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Not All Omegas are Created Equally
Both omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to the human body (must be consumed in the diet). While sources of omega-3 fatty acids are few in the human diet, sources of omega-6 fatty acids are much more prevalent in today’s Standard American Diet (SAD). Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include the ever-so-healthy fish oil and flax seeds. Sources of omega 6-fatty acids include seeds, nuts, corn, wheat, soy, refined oils, and processed foods.
While one of the significant actions of omega-3 fatty acids is to decrease inflammation, the actions of omega-6 fatty acids are mixed. Omega-6 fatty acids can be both pro-inflammatory and also anti-inflammatory. Again, both are essential, meaning we NEED these fats in our diet. But…there must be a balance.
Currently, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about 18 to 1. It has been calculated that thousands of years ago (when we were primarily hunters and gathers, before agriculture), the ratio between omega-6 to omega-3 oils was a more balanced 5 to 1. The imbalance of oils may play a role in the rise of asthma, certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and neurological diseases. All of these diseases are due to pro-inflammatory states and likely too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3’s.
Differences Between Flax and Fish
As stated above, there are differences between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. There are also differences between flax seeds and fish oil, both of which are omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax seeds are a good vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, but it is important to note that they are a sub-optimal source as compared to fish oil. Flax seeds are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). To achieve anti-inflammatory effects, however, ALA must be converted to EPA and DHA. Not all individuals are efficient converters. Therefore, fish oil, which is inherently rich in EPA and DHA, is all-in-all a better source of omega-3 fatty acids.
With that said, I recommend that both fish oil and flax seeds be consumed. While flax seeds require that additional step of conversion to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits, they are an EXCELLENT source of fiber. Flax has the power to lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and promote healthy bowel movements! And as a major bonus for peri-menopausal women, flax seeds have been found to significantly reduce the frequency of hot flashes due to their high phytoestrogen content.
I recommend ground flax seeds over liquid flax oil because of the added benefits the seed provides (as stated above)- good source of fiber, ability to stabilize blood sugar and its phytoestrogenic effects. Flax oil, on the other hand, does not have these added benefits AND is very fragile and goes rancid easily, creating free radicals in your body.
Recommended Dosage and Storage of Fish Oil and Flax Seeds
The majority of research studies show that to achieve an anti-inflammatory effect, one should consume a minimum of 1.2 grams per day of TOTAL omega-3’s (DHA and EPA combined). You can eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, a couple nights a week or take a daily supplemental liquid fish oil for optimal wellness. Store your fish oil in the fridge and consider buying professional-grade fish oil to be sure it is free of contaminants, such as mercury.
A dose of 2-4 tbsps of GROUND flax-seeds per day is recommended. By eating ground flax seeds, you can utilize the anti-inflammatory effects. Otherwise, if they are whole seeds they will pass right through your digestive tract. You can add ground seeds to smoothies, oatmeal, soups, salads or stir-fries. They add a nice nutty flavor and texture to your food.
I recommend buying whole seeds and grinding them yourself in a coffee grinder. You can grind a week’s worth and store them in an air-tight container in the freezer. This prevents the fragile fats from going rancid.
Flax seeds and fish oil are truly “Super Foods.” They can be used in both the treatment of chronic diseases and also for prevention and everyday wellness.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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Generations of people have reported that cherries help keep painful osteoarthritis (OA) and gout flares in check. Now, scientists are putting this popular folk remedy to the test, with promising results.
Researchers have tested different amounts of several varieties of cherries in almost every form, from juice to pills. And though most studies are small and the findings preliminary, evidence of the benefits of cherries is growing.
In a study of 633 participants, Boston University Medical Center researchers found that eating at least 10 cherries a day protected people with existing gout from recurrent attacks. The findings were published in 2012, in a supplement to the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
“Cherry intake was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of gout flares over a 48-hour period,” says study co-author Hyon K. Choi, MD. “We extrapolate that cherries will continue to work long-term.”
He attributes the positive effects to anthocyanins – plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanins are found in red and purple fruits, including raspberries and blueberries, but cherries, especially tart cherries, contain higher levels.
That idea was corroborated by British researchers in a 2014 study in the Journal of Functional Foods. In that study, drinking Montmorency tart juice reduced blood levels of gout-causing uric acid and increased specific anthocyanin compounds in the bloodstream. Another study in the same journal found that eating whole cherries led to a similar increase in anthocyanins.
Liquid cherry extract – found in health-food and specialty stores – appears to provide the same benefits. In a retrospective study of 24 patients presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism, researchers at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., saw a 50 percent reduction in flares when gout patients took one tablespoon of tart cherry extract – the equivalent of 45 to 60 cherries – twice a day for four months.
“This is definitely a topic worth further investigation,” Dr. Choi says. “If cherries prove effective in large trials, they could provide a safe, nonpharmacological option for preventing recurrent gout attacks.”
Other studies suggest that cherries may also help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). In a 2013 article inOsteoarthritis and Cartilage, researchers at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center reported that patients who consumed two 8-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice daily for 6 weeks experienced a significant improvement in pain, stiffness and physical function. Study participants also showed a marked decrease in high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation Each bottle of juice equaled about 45 cherries.
According to one small study, even cherry pills may improve OA pain and stiffness. In a 2007 pilot study at the Baylor Research Institute in Dallas, Texas, more than half of 20 enrolled patients reported improved pain and function after taking one cherry capsule a day for eight weeks. Each capsule contained 100 milligrams (mg) of anthocyanins. (Three ounces of pitted dark cherries are estimated to contain from 80 to 300 mg of anthocyanins). But in a follow-up study, when patients took two capsules daily, the cherry pills performed no better than placebo.
Until more is known, most researchers are reluctant to recommend a specific cherry regimen. But many agree that for overall health, and as a possible tool in managing gout and OA pain, a handful of cherries, especially a tart variety such as Montmorency, or a glass of cherry juice every day may be beneficial.
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Some scientific evidence does suggest that drinking cherry juice or eating tart (pie) cherries in season can help relieve muscle pain, arthritis pain and the pain of gout as well as – or better than – aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs. The anthocyanins that give tart cherries their color are likely responsible for their anti-inflammatory, pain-killing effect.
Cherries haven’t been widely researched for their effect on pain, but the few studies that have been done appear promising. In 2010, investigators at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) tested cherry juice against a placebo among athletes preparing to run the 197-mile relay race from Mount Hood to Seaside, OR. The participants drank 10.5 ounces of cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for seven days prior to the race and the same amount every eight hours on the day of the race. None of them were taking any other pain relievers. After the race, the runners who drank the cherry juice reported less pain and faster muscle strength recovery than those who received the placebo.
In 2006, British researchers reported results of a study in which college-age men drank a blend of cherry and apple juice or a placebo twice a day for eight consecutive days. On day four, those who drank the cherry-apple juice mix reported less pain after performing a series of intensive arm exercises than those who drank the placebo. Moreover, the men who drank the juice reported that their pain peaked at 24 hours, while in the placebo group, pain continued to increase for two days after the workout. The study appears in the August, 2006, issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
One of the earliest investigations of the effect of cherries on pain took place at Michigan State University. Researchers said their findings suggested that the equivalent of 20 tart cherries inhibited the enzymes Cox-1 and Cox-2, which are the targets of anti-inflammatory drugs, and did so at doses much lower than a usual dose of aspirin.
While these results are compelling, we don’t yet have enough evidence to recommend drinking cherry juice as a sole or primary treatment for arthritis, gout, and muscle pain. So far, no study has directly compared the pain-relieving effects of cherry juice to those of aspirin or ibuprofen. While anti-inflammatory drugs do have serious drawbacks – regular use can lead to stomach problems and internal bleeding – drinking two bottles of natural cherry juice daily can lead to diarrhea and upset stomach. We don’t know whether cherry juice concentrate would have these effects. Also, bear in mind that cherry juice isn’t calorie-free. One eight-to-10-ounce bottle of juice is the caloric equivalent of consuming three servings of fruit, with all the sugar and none of the fiber.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Studies have explored the impact of Montmorency tart cherry juice consumption on gout attacks and arthritis symptoms.
For decades, people with arthritis and gout have consumed Montmorency tart cherry juice for relief of symptoms – even though much of the evidence was anecdotal, and some people dismissed the soothing claims as folklore.
Now scientists have turned their attention to Montmorency tart cherries to test the potential benefits for arthritis and gout sufferers.
A look at the science.
Uric acid levels: Excess uric acid in the blood is the culprit behind the excruciating pain of a gout attack. A study from USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis, found that healthy women ages 20 to 40 who consumed 2 servings (280 grams) of cherries after an overnight fast showed a 15% reduction in uric acid levels, as well as decreased inflammatory markers nitric oxide and C-reactive protein.
Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women.
Researchers in the UK used 2 different amounts of Montmorency tart cherry juice concentrate, 30 and 60 mL (about 1 and 2 ounces) mixed with water to investigate the bioavailability of anthocyanins and the impact on uric acid levels and inflammation. In this single-blind, two-phased, randomized, cross-over designed study, 12 healthy participants without gout (male and female) were given the 2 different doses of the juice with a washout period of at least 10 days between the phases. The tart cherries were found to significantly reduce uric acid levels up to eight hours. The levels began to increase back to the starting levels after 24-48 hours. The 30 mL dose (equal to about 90 whole Montmorency tart cherries) was just as effective as the 60 mL dose. More research is needed to determine what the effect would be on individuals with gout or those at risk of developing gout.
Montmorency tart cherry (Prunus cerasus L.) concentrate lowers uric acid, independent of plasma cyanidin-3-O-glucosiderutinoside.
Osteoarthritis: In a study conducted at Oregon Health and Science University, 20 females with osteoarthritis (ages 40-70 years) drank 10.5-ounce bottles of either Montmorency tart cherry juice or a placebo beverage twice daily for 21 days. Participants assessed level of pain at baseline and after the invention, and blood was drawn to evaluate several different biomarkers of inflammation. The tart cherry group experienced a significant reduction in one of the inflammation biomarkers, C-reactive protein.
Efficacy of tart cherry juice to reduce inflammation biomarkers among women with inflammatory osteoarthritis.
Additional studies on Montmorency tart cherries and gout/arthritis:
Is there a role for cherries in the management of gout?
Consumption of 100% tart cherry juice reduces serum urate in overweight and obese adults.
Cherry consumption and decreased recurrent gout attacks.
An internet survey of common treatments used by patients with gout including cherry extract and other dietary supplements.
For ideas on how to incorporate tart cherries into your diet, click here.
This home remedy claims that drinking tart cherry juice or eating tart cherries helps reduce arthritis pain and inflammation. The tart or sour cherry is also known as the pie cherry, Montmorency cherry, or Balaton cherry. These are different from the sweet cherries commonly sold at grocery stores — varieties like Bing, Ranier, and Lambert cherries.
Health benefits of tart cherries
There has been a growing body of research about the positive health benefits of eating tart cherries or drinking the juice. For instance, several studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice can reduce the risk of gout flares by 50 percent. Another study showed that when women with osteoarthritis drank tart cherry juice, it resulted in a significant reduction in the inflammation marker C-Reactive Protein (CRP).
The beneficial effects of tart cherry juice are not limited to varieties of arthritis. Studies on other health conditions have shown that there is potential for tart cherry juice to decrease the pain of peripheral neuropathy, reduce muscle pain, and help manage the symptoms of diabetes.
What is it about tart cherries?
One of the key players in the health benefits of tart cherries appears to be the phytochemicals (plant pigments) responsible for the dark red color of the cherry. They are called anthocyanins 1 and 2 and there is increasing evidence that they may be anti-inflammatory and reduce oxidative stress in the body’s cells — they are effective antioxidants.
Anthocyanins 1 and 2 are antioxidants that block cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes. So tart cherries may have some similar effects or properties to anti-inflammatory COX-2 inhibitor drugs like Celebrex. While anthocyanins are found in other berries like strawberries and raspberries, tart cherries have the highest concentration of them.
Cherries also contain high levels of beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamins C and E and are a source of potassium, magnesium, iron, folate and fiber. Interestingly, they are also a natural food source of melatonin — a hormone that helps regulate sleep.
Cherry juice is a natural remedy that I have heard about and tried. I didn’t see much benefit from it, but then I never drank cherry juice for more than a few days at a time. Perhaps it needs to build up in one’s system. In personal accounts, most people have said that it either helps their arthritis symptoms somewhat or that they didn’t really see a difference.
Why tart cherries and not sweet cherries?
Tart cherries have a higher concentration of the phenolics and anthocyanins than sweet cherries. They are also slightly lower in sugar, so most research studies focus on the beneficial effects of the tart varieties. However, sweet cherries do also contain a significant level of anthocyanins. They may also have the potential to reduce inflammation and may help lessen the severity of other inflammatory conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Will tart cherries help rheumatoid arthritis?
The majority of studies that have looked into the effects of tart cherries on arthritis have focused on osteoarthritis and gout. Given the findings in research, we may be able to surmise that there is potential for cherries — both tart and sweet — to have a beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
As mentioned above, studies show a reduction in pain and the inflammation biomarker CRP. As well, a 2016 study indicated that they may also cause a decrease in tumor necrosis factor-alpha, an inflammatory cytokine involved in RA.
How should you consume the cherries?
You can purchase tart cherry juice or cherry juice concentrate at most grocery stores and health food stores. Some are concentrated and need to be diluted with water (flat or sparkling) or you can add them to iced tea, smoothies, and other drinks. Consuming tart cherry juice mixed with other liquids can reduce the significantly sour taste.
Tart cherries are not a cure for RA, but may provide partial relief for some people. Responses vary between individuals and like any drug, treatment, or home remedy, it is unlikely to be the one, single answer for anyone with RA.
See more helpful articles:
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