Osteoarthritis is a very common medical condition which affects the joints, causing considerable pain and stiffness which cause a loss of ability in many of the body’s limbs and appendages.
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but most commonly causes problems in the knees, hips and neck as well as the fingers and toes. Large weight bearing joints are especially susceptible to osteoarthritis. There are generally two types of osteoarthritis – primary osteoarthritis which is where the cause of the condition is unknown (usually a result of the joint’s natural aging), and secondary osteoarthritis where the condition is caused by another identifiable medical abnormality such as obesity.
Osteoarthritis becomes significantly more common with age. Under the age of 45, only around two in every 100 people suffer from the condition, but after the age of 60 it becomes much more prevalent in the population. In the UK, two million people a year visit their doctors due to pain and discomfort caused by osteoarthritis, and it is the most common of all the various types of arthritis.
Cartilage is the flexible connective tissue which is present in joints, to provide cushioning and prevent the two bones from grinding against each other. With aging, the water content of cartilage increases, whilst the protein content decreases.
This degenerates the cartilage and causes it to flake and form crevasses in the surface. As the cartilage becomes less effective, there is a greater amount of friction between the two bones of the joint, and repetitive use of worn out joints can cause a great deal of irritation, inflammation and swelling over time.
This can be extremely painful when carrying out day to day activities, and tends to worsen in the later years of life. In advanced forms of osteoarthritis, the cartilage may be completely lost altogether.
As mentioned before, primary osteoarthritis has no particular cause other than general aging, and it has also been suggested that there is a hereditary basis to the condition, as it sometimes develops in several members of the same family.
Osteoarthritis can also be caused by other medical conditions, in which case it is secondary osteoarthritis. Obesity is a frequent cause, as higher weight means an increased amount of mechanical stress on the joints of the body, especially the knees. Trauma or injury to the joint tissues can often lead to an earlier onset of osteoarthritis, which is common in sportsmen and those involved in certain branches of the military.
Some people are also born with abnormalities in the formation of their joints, which can lead to easier wear and tear and earlier degeneration of cartilage. For example, osteoarthritis in the hip joints is sometimes caused by structural abnormalities which have been present since birth. Diabetes and disorders of certain hormones such as growth hormone have also been linked to early wearing down of cartilage and secondary osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis vary extensively depending on the particular individual it is affecting. The most common and instantly recognisable symptom of the condition is pain and discomfort of the joints after repetitive use. The joints tend to swell, feel warm and can also present with a grinding or grating sensation upon movement.
These symptoms generally worsen later in the day after they have been continuously used. In more severe forms of the conditions where cartilage has been completely worn down and lost, there can be pain even when sitting and moving limited amounts, due to the massive amounts of friction between the bones.
However not all patients who suffer from cartilage degradation will experience these symptoms – some people will have no noticeable pain at all despite X-Rays showing dramatic wearing down of the joints. Others will be in severe and relatively constant pain.
Sometimes, symptoms may be intermittant and not be noticeable for periods of several years, before eventually returning. In obese patients who develop osteoarthritis of the knees, degradation of the knee joints can cause noticeable outward curvature of the knees, referred to as being bowlegged.
Impairment of movement, such as limping, is also seen in patients with osteoarthritis of the weight bearing joints. Osteoarthritis of the cervical or lumbar spine can cause neck pain and also development of “bony spurs” which can affect the spinal nerves and cause severe pain that can affect other parts of the body.
These bone spurs cause hard, bony enlargements of the finger joints, which are not always painful but can noticeably restrict movement of these joints. These enlargements are very distinct and are commonly used to diagnose the condition. As we can see, depending on the particular joints which the osteoarthritis is affecting, as well as the individual patient’s health and age, the symptoms of the condition can vary a large amount.
Here is a useful video, which summarises the types and symptoms of ostearthritis and rheumatoid arthritis:
The risk of developing osteoarthritis can be linked to a range of lifestyle factors such as diet, weight and exercise program. A balanced nutritional intake is important for anyone, but for sufferers of osteoarthritis it can be essential, and can also help prevent the condition in people who have not yet developed it. Most doctors will not recommend a single specific diet plan for sufferers of osteoarthritis, but there are a range of foods and nutrients which are shown to help manage the condition.
Due to osteoarthritis often being caused by obesity, it is important to manage body weight by cutting out excess calories, through reducing intake of sugary and foods high in saturated fats.
Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which can help reduce joint inflammation and tissue damage, increasing mobility and reducing pain. Taking Omega-3 fatty acids also reportedly reduces joint inflammation, and those who eat a large amount of oily fish or take supplements of this have been able to reduce their dosage of Nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which is the usual treatment for osteoarthritis.
Olive oil has also been recommended for patients, as it contains a compound called oleocanthal which contributes to the reduction of inflammation, working in a similar way to NSAIDs. Vitamin C is also an important element for joint health, as it helps to build collagen and connective tissue. Eating citrus fruits or drinking fruit juices is a great way to increase the amount of Vitamin C in your diet.
Certain amino acids or amino acid-like compounds have been recognised as having therapeutic properties for sufferers of osteoarthritis. These compounds are often present in a range of common everyday food items, and can also be taken as supplements in some cases.
L-Methionine is a sulphur containing amino acid which promotes the development of cartilage tissue. This is due to the fact that the primary building blocks of cartilage are glycosaminoglycans, which are linked together in chains by disulphide bonds, which are strong bonds between two sulphur atoms. These disulphide bridges are therefore responsible for the strength and integrity of cartilage, and so sulphur is highly important for maintaining cartilage.
Methionine is often considered to be the most important dietary addition used to combat the condition, and also appears to have no known side effects. Fish, meat and nuts contain a large amount of this amino acid, and when taken with the supplements folic acid and Vitamin B12, which help promote the metabolism of methionine, it can be particularly effective.
L-Arginine is another amino acid which plays a role in supporting the body’s immune system, which can help reduce and heal inflammation of the joints. Seafood and chickpeas are particularly high in arginine, and supplementation of arginine through tablets can also be beneficial.
Glucosamine is a popular dietary supplement which is used to treat knee osteoarthritis. It is a naturally occurring amino sugar which is an important constituent of the matrix of cartilage as well as the synovial fluid. It has been shown to help rebuild degenerated cartilage and in turn reduce the symptoms of arthritis, such as reducing pain, swelling and stiffness. Some patients report pain relief equivalent to that provided by NSAIDs. Due to the fact that glucosamine is rarely found in food, it is usually ingested through supplements that are extracted from crab, lobster or shrimp tissue.
Finally, Methylsulfonulmethane or MSM is an organosulphur compound which has a very high concentration of sulphur. Similar to Methionine, this supplement works due to the fact that sulphur is an important component of cartilage, and can as a result help manage the symptoms of the condition. Although there has not been a huge amount of research surrounding this supplement and its use in treating osteoarthritis, a small number of studies have shown its potential to reduce the severity of symptoms in patients.
The market is awash with arthritis food supplements and they differ quite significantly in terms of their nutrient formulation and value for money. The site jointspecialists.org has compared more than 20 of them and concluded that amitamin arthro360 and ARTHRO PRO aminoexpert are the best products on the market.
Osteoarthritis can be a highly debilitating disorder that affects a large number of people, increasing with age. However, there are a range of simple additions to one’s diet which can help reduce and manage the symptoms without resorting to drugs that come with potential adverse effects. The incorporation of certain amino acids into the everyday diet has shown a lot of promise in giving suffers of osteoarthritis a degree of relief from this painful condition.