In the most recent edition of Health magazine, there was a small blurb on the potential danger of eating tilapia. Before I became a vegetarian, I ate tilapia. A LOT of tilapia, mostly because it was cheap. The taste was OK, too, but I liked the price tag more than anything.
The article, “Wake Forest researchers say popular fish contains potentially dangerous fatty acid combination,” makes a compelling argument against eating tilapia if you have “heart disease, arthritis, asthma and other allergic and auto-immune diseases that are particularly vulnerable to an ‘exaggerated inflammatory response.’ Inflammation is known to cause damage to blood vessels, the heart, lung and joint tissues, skin, and the digestive tract.”
As you know, I have severe degenerative arthritis (That’s what my ortho docs keep calling it, but it seems redundant to me. Isn’t simply “arthritis” enough to put a wince in your eye? Does it have to be “severe” and “degenerative,” too? It’s like salt in a wound. Yeah, I get the picture, doc. It ain’t good.) Anyway, as a person with arthritis and who knows many, many other people with arthritis, I try to stay on top of the latest science involving arthritis pain and prevention, and this article is another hammer in the toolbox, so to speak.
But there’s a disturbing catch-22 in all this information, that has to do with what I said about the price of tilapia. It’s cheap. “This ability to feed the fish inexpensive foods, together with their capacity to grow under almost any condition, keeps the market price for the fish so low that it is rapidly becoming a staple in low-income diets.”
So yet again, people with the least access to healthy food are getting screwed. “Eat more fish!” they hear health professionals say. And so they do. Only it’s not going to help them with their heart disease, arthritis or other ailments because of the fish’s lop-sided combination of omega-3 and omega-6. It can potentially hurt them.
In a Mayo Clinic article, sent to me by my blogging partner, Barbara Berkeley: “Omega-3 in fish. How eating fish helps your heart,” salmon and trout have a much better omega-3 record, but both are more expensive. What to do? Perhaps flaxseed is a less-expensive alternative to fish.
Dr. Dean Ornish, a vegetarian, said this about omega-3s in an interview with PBS Frontline (a very good in-depth interview if you have a few minutes to read it): “The omega-3 fatty acids, for example, can reduce sudden cardiac death by 50 to 80 percent. My mentor when I was doing my training at Mass. General, Dr. Alexander Leaf, discovered this 20 years ago. Just 3 grams a day of fish oil or flaxseed oil can reduce sudden cardiac death by 50 to 80 percent and lower your triglycerides, [it] can reduce inflammation of arthritis, many other benefits. But you don't need more than that. Just a little can provide what you need without getting too much, so you can get the benefits without getting too many calories.”
Sounds good. But will people who need to hear this message the most get the message from the medical community? My fingers are crossed.
Back to arthritis for a minute, while I’m all for the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3, my immediate priority is reducing inflammation of arthritis any way I can. So I add ground flaxseed to many kinds of foods. (My favorite? Sugar-free chocolate pudding, of course.). I’ve been using flaxseed for almost a year in conjunction with exercise, Synvisc injections, massage, chiropractic and weight management to help control my arthritis pain and inflammation. I can’t say for sure it works, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting anything, either, so I’ll stick with it.
So my questions today are, do you make a conscious effort to eat foods rich in omega-3 and for what purpose? If you have arthritis, how do you treat the pain and inflammation?
Looking forward to your comments! You always teach me so much.