Another patient suggested George see me for a physical because he was experiencing joint pain. Although George was in good health for his age (nearly 70) and had minimal signs of arthritis, there was room for improvement, especially in the food department. George lived alone, and to keep things simple, he made himself a bowl of cereal every morning followed by a lunch of a grilled cheese sandwich, and a frozen, prepared dinner in the evenings. That meant he was missing out on an awful lot of nutrition from fresh fruits and vegetables as well as good fats.
But when I began discussing a better diet, George held up his hand and gave me a skeptical look. “Now hold on a minute, Doctor,” he said. “What the heck do my grilled cheese sandwiches have to do with my bad knees? That doesn’t make sense.”
I showed George a plastic model of the knee and explained that the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones needs lubrication, just like a car’s engine. I explained that the best lubrication he could get comes from omega-3 fatty acids, the sort of fat found in some fish and certain nuts. “Eating more of those foods or taking omega-3 supplements would make a big difference in your knee pain. I also noticed that the skin on your legs is very dry, and you have a lot of scratch marks. Does it bother you?”
George admitted that his legs itched day and night. He’d bought some lotion at the supermarket that had helped a little, but he still found himself scratching his legs more often than he would like. “Since your cholesterol is higher than it should be, I recommend you start taking 2,000 mg of omega-3 supplements every day and see if that doesn’t fix some of these problems.”
George gave me his skeptical look again but agreed to try the supplements. Many times, patients agree to one thing in the exam room, then return months later with the same problems and a long list of excuses about why they didn’t do what I’d suggested. Not George. He followed my advice so carefully that when he returned a year later, not only was his cholesterol much improved, but he reported his knee pain was gone and so was the dry, itchy skin that used to trouble him. He still ate a daily grilled cheese, but he had added salads, extra vegetables, and fresh fruit to his daily diet.
“I’m very impressed, George,” I told him. “Not all patients are as good at follow-through as you are.”
“Well, I figured you’re the doctor, and I should at least try to do what you suggested. Then after a few weeks, I started feeling better and just kept going with your recommendations. My itchy skin is gone, my knees don’t hurt anymore, and now you’re telling me my cholesterol is better. All that happened from making a few small changes! I’m on a roll now, and there’s no way I’m going back to what I was doing before.”
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: December 17, 2012