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Sucker Punched by a Potato Chip?

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Sucker Punched by a Potato Chip?

Everyday foods that can cause you pain.
Vijay  Vad M.D.
Vijay Vad M.D. More by this author
Jun 02, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Most of the pain people suffer from, both in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, involves the complex system of nerves (neuro), muscles and tendons (musculo), and bones, joints, and cartilage (skeletal). MSK [musculoskeletal] pain, which covers a wide range of symptoms and causes, affect one in four adults worldwide and is the most common source of serious, long-term pain and physical disability. Chronic pain, often a result of unresolved MSK pain, is the cause of as many as 60 percent of people requiring early retirement or long-term sick leave.

Research has shown that the everyday decisions you make regarding the kind and amount of food you consume have a significant impact on your health. Food provides more than energy for your body to function. It also contains vital nutrients, including vitamins and minerals that are critical for the well-being of your bones, and substances such as antioxidants and phytonutrients that can slow down the inflammation that plays a key role in the development of MSK pain.

The most recent scientific research has also found that nutrition has a direct impact on inflammation, which is one of the key components of chronic pain, osteoarthritis, and heart disease. Perhaps the most radical medical insight to come out of all the research into the relationship between food and its impact on the body is the role that certain foods play in initiating inflammation. Food and food additives that trigger inflammation are labeled as “pro-inflammatory” because they cause the body’s natural defense system to respond in much the same way it would to a wound or other injury. For example, trans fats—a kind of unsaturated fat created by using hydrogenated oils—are known to increase the risk of a number of degenerative chronic ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol  and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. (LDL cholesterol transports cholesterol throughout your body and, at higher levels, accumulates in artery walls and makes them hard and narrow. HDL collects excess cholesterol and carries it to your liver.)

Food manufacturers have known for a while now about the dangers caused by trans fats, but because trans fats enhance the taste of certain foods, as well as add calories and artificially slow spoilage, they continue to be used. This all adds up to higher profits for food companies, but the real costs of trans fats are shifted to consumers. Health authorities worldwide agree that we should reduce all consumption of trans fats to trace amounts.

Trans fats along with the preservative sodium nitrite, the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, sugar in its many forms (dextrose, sucrose, lactose, high fructose corn syrup), artificial chemical sweeteners, artificial colors, homogenized fats, and other toxic, disease-promoting ingredients, can still be found in abundance in the American food supply, all approved by the FDA.

These foods and additives promote inflammation by generating free radicals—atoms, molecules, or ions that lack an electron in their outer shell and seek to bond with other atoms or molecules to stabilize themselves. Once formed, these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction, like dominoes, forcing other molecules to become unstable in turn. They build up over time and cause cartilage to lose its ability to bounce back, artery walls to lose their ability to resist plaque, and airways to lose their tendency to remain open. The body reacts to inflammation in the arterial walls in a similar way to how it reacts to cuts and other external injuries.

This can result in the formation of scar tissue that attracts plaque “essential” because our body cannot produce them, yet they are present in every living cell in the body and are critical for normal functioning of the body. The omega-3 EFAs that are found in foods such as cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, bass, swordfish, and tuna) and flax seeds, walnuts, and dark green leafy vegetables (including kale, spinach, chard, broccoli, and dark green lettuce) have been shown to discourage the production of inflammatory chemicals that harm the joints and other parts of the body. These omega-3 EFAs appear to turn off inflammatory reactions when the body no longer needs them, and so to keep the inflammation process from running amok. They also contribute to the creation of a variety of powerful anti-inflammatory substances.

By contrast, omega-6 EFAs, which are found in red meat and other animal products and in many vegetable oils used in cooking and baking, promote inflammation. Our diet is overloaded with omega-6 foods, including the omnipresent vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, peanut) not only used to fry foods and make potato and corn chips, but also added to most processed foods, commercial salad dressings, microwavable food, frozen food, and many brand-name breakfast bars and candy bars.

Until about a hundred years ago, our ancestors lived well on a diet in which omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids were in balance.

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is roughly 2:1, which has been our traditional diet for many thousands of years. Today, the ratio averages more than 20:1, which is dangerous to health. If you eat fast food more than four times per week, chances are your ratio is closer to 40:1. A study in the January 2002 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that the omega-6 EFAs increased inflammation in heart cells.1 Because omega-3 and omega-6 interact with each other, it’s important to maintain the proper balance between them that is crucial for good health.


  1. Michal Toborek, Yong Woo Lee, Rosario Garrido, Simone Kaiser, and Bernhard Hennig. “Unsaturated fatty acids selectively induce an inflammatory environment in human endothelial cells.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75, No. 1 (January 2002): 119-125.
About Author
Vijay  Vad M.D.
Vijay Vad, M.D., is a sports-medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and a professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He is the author of Back Rx and Arthritis Rx. In 2007, he created the Vad Foundation, dedicated to tw Continue reading