How Fatty Acids Help You Recover Faster

Whether you run recreationally or competitively, you will find that running provides many positive health benefits. But for many, running can take its toll on the body.

As we age, recovery from long events is not as quick as it once was, and we can experience more joint and muscle aches and pains.

The family doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, but that merely masks the symptoms. There are also many side effects that can accompany the use of these pharmaceuticals.

If you're experiencing any body aches and pains due to running, the first thing you should do is check with a bio-mechanical expert, such as a running trainer, to make sure poor form or improper shoes aren't causing the discomfort.

Next, look more closely at your diet. After running, your body is trying to promote and stimulate the healing process, but it may not be getting the right raw materials (nutrients) to do so effectively. Running is an excellent avenue for fitness, and with the correct supportive nutrition, you can continue to compete and enjoy your runs.

Nutrition Imbalances in America

The current American lifestyle and changes in the modern diet are largely responsible for essential fatty acid imbalances and deficiencies. The ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats has changed dramatically because of the widespread use of modified vegetable oils (mainly Omega-6 fats) in cooking, as well as the processing of such oils. These alterations to Omega-3 fats are meant to improve shelf life and eliminate their natural, strong taste (think of the distinctive tastes of cod liver or flax oil). Historical estimates placed the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 oils at nearly 1:1 for prehistoric humans. By 1900, the ratio had increased to about 4:1. The current American ratio is about 25:1.

Chronic joint pain and muscular discomfort are similar to the chronic inflammatory conditions that accompany essential fatty acid imbalance.

The Use of Pharmaceutical Drugs
The current allopathic approach to pain and inflammation is treatment with symptom-specific pharmaceutical drugs such as steroids, prednisone, aspirin, ibuprofen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), and sulfa drugs. The problem with these drug therapies is that they prevent the formation of "good" anti-inflammatory eicosanoids (signaling molecules derived from essential fatty acids that exert complex control over many bodily systems, mainly in inflammation or immunity, and as messengers in the central nervous system), or they shift the production of one type of eicosanoid to another.

A Balanced Diet
It is not a bodily deficit of pain killers or pharmaceuticals preventing runner's recovery, but rather a lack of appropriate dietary Omega-3 fatty acids essential to nourish your body and promote healing.

To effectively manage your muscular and joint health, you must balance your dietary intake of specific fats. By balancing the Omega-3 fats to more closely resemble the 4:1 ratio, you will give your body the necessary raw materials to heal and rebuild, you will also be reducing your risk of our modern society induced chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune disease.

The Science Behind Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Recovery

A scientific study published in Surgical Neurology, demonstrated Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as a viable alternative to NSAIDS. The broadly prescribed pharmaceutical approach comes with a litany of side effects, and very little clinical improvement when used in inflammatory or tissue damage injuries. The study found that natural and synthetic corticosteroids decreased healing capabilities, decreased the normal immune response, and have significant bone and gastric side effects. COX-2 inhibitors increase cardiovascular side effects.

Omega-3 fatty acid is used by the body to make anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. The beneficial anti-inflammatory effects of high-doses of (2,000-4,000 mg) fish oil include the reduction of joint pain, improvement in dry eyes and macular degeneration, and a significant reduction in heart problems such as plaque formation, arrhythmias, and heart attack. At the conclusion of the study, 88 percent of the patients discontinued the prescription NSAIDS and continued on the fish oil virtually pain free.

The fish oil supplementation was not associated with any significant side effects. If you decide to use fish or cod liver oil as your source of essential fatty acids, consider purchasing a certified mercury-free, pharmaceutical-grade supplement. When researching and choosing which product you prefer, keep in mind that there are vegetarian alternatives to fish oil, such as flax seed and black currant seed oils. There are also different preparations from a range of reputable companies that include other sources of high quality Omega-3 fatty acids.

Essentially, your body does a great job of trying to repair, maintain and improve itself with the nutrients at hand. Introducing a supplemental source of Omega-3 fatty acids should help balance out the equation, and give your body the chance to complete the job.

Dr. Roger Smith, D.C., is a chiropractor at Indigo Chiropractic in Scottsdale, Ariz. He can be reached at

Sources: American Academy of Pain Management; Weiner's Pain Management; A Practical Guide of Clinicians, Seventh Edition, 2006, pp 584-585. Edited by Mark Boswell and B. Eliot Cole.

Surgical Neurology 65 (April 2006) pages 326-331

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