Scientists are constantly studying the links between diet and disease, and it seems like nowadays everything you eat has some connection to an ailment. However, this research is very beneficial to our health, as it gives us valuable information on how to adjust our intake based on our wellness concerns.
A new study, published today in Scientific Reports and conducted by professor Yin Xiao and a team at Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, focuses on the relationship between osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis) and a high-fat, high-carb (sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup) diet. The fats they studied in particular: butter, coconut oil, palm oil and animal fat.
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Findings suggest there’s a direct association between the two—junk food may weaken joints (it changes the composition of the cartilage within them, causing it to break down), resulting in osteoarthritis, which affects more than 30 million American adults according to the CDC. It most often occurs in the hips, knees and hands and can cause pain, stiffness and swelling.
“Our findings suggest that it’s not wear and tear, but diet that has a lot to do with the onset of osteoarthritis,” said Xiao. “The main function of cartilage is to seal the bone ends in a joint and absorb pressure on the bones during weight-bearing movement such as walking. We found that a diet containing simple carbohydrates together with 20 percent saturated fats produced osteoarthritic-like changes in the knee. Saturated fatty acid deposits in the cartilage change its metabolism and weaken the cartilage, making it more prone to damage.”
However, this outcome only occurred in the participants who ate animal-based fats. What’s really compelling, is that when it came time to study the saturated fatty acid found in coconut oil (lauric acid) and its effect on the joints, the opposite result was observed.
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“Interestingly, when we replaced the meat fat in the diet with lauric acid, we found decreased signs of cartilage deterioration and metabolic syndrome, so it seems to have a protective effect,” said researcher Sunder Sekar. “We tested a variety of saturated fats and found that long-term use of animal fat, butter and palm oil could weaken the cartilage. Replacement of traditional diets containing coconut-derived lauric acid with palm oil-derived palmitic acid or animal fat-derived stearic acid has the potential to worsen the development of both metabolic syndrome and osteoarthritis.”
You can find organic virgin and fair-trade coconut oil at health food stores, and there are many ways to work it into your diet—baking, frying, smoothies, etc. If you don’t like the taste or texture, a good way to hide it is in your morning cup of joe. Might sound strange, but nutrition gurus swear by it: Mix coffee, organic unsalted butter and coconut oil in a blender with a dash of vanilla for a creamy treat that packs health benefits.