A first of its kind study by researchers from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology and the University of Southern Queensland has identified a connection between a diet heavy in saturated fatty acids and simple carbohydrates (common components of junk food) and the onset of osteoarthritis, dispelling previously held ideas that joint ‘wear and tear’ is primarily responsible for the onset of the condition.
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Researchers found that a diet with just 20 percent of saturated fats was capable of creating significant damage to the kind of load-bearing cartilage associated with the development of osteoarthritis.

The study also revealed that unsaturated fatty acids such as lauric acid had a protective effect on joints instead. Currently, osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the United States, occurring in an estimated 10 percent of men and 13 percent of women over the age of 60.

The study, titled ‘Saturated fatty acids induce development of both metabolic syndrome and osteoarthritis in rats’ was published mid-April as a result of a collaborative effort between Yin Xiao of the Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Lindsay Brown at University of Southern Queensland and the Prince Charles Hospital Research Foundation.

While previous research into the field has revealed that a consumption of saturated fatty acids is indicative of osteoarthritis development, no study until now has examined the relationship between this disease and the consumption of saturated fatty acids in individual diets.

According to research, the most common saturated fatty acids found in human diets are lauric, myristic, palmitic and stearic acid. In the study, rats were either given a diet made up of corn starch or simple carbohydrates together with 20 percent of the above-mentioned acids or beef tallow for 16 weeks.

It was observed that the rats that were fed tallow or a diet with saturated fatty acids had developed signs of metabolic syndrome, cartilage degradation and changes in bone structure commonly experienced during the development of osteoarthritis.

The results challenge previously-held assumptions that obesity in and of itself is responsible for the onset of osteoarthritis. While excess weight does add additional stress to joints in the body, an increased presence of saturated fatty acids in the body may induce infiltration of the inflammatory cells which are ultimately responsible for the development of osteoarthritis.

While researchers were careful to stress that further human clinical trials are needed to determine whether or not replacing foods high in saturated fatty acids with ones high in monounsaturated fatty acids or lauric acids could reverse the development of osteoarthritis, it is evident that while effective, low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets favored by many for weight loss might do more harm than good.

And while the study did not specifically address olive oil, previous research indicated that compounds in olive oil can actually reduce or even reverse the negative effects of high fat diets and is not correlated with sedentary behavior, which could help reduce the likelihood of excess weight gain and its associated joint stress.

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