• A Holistic Nutrition Approach to Osteoarthritis


Osteoarthritis (OA) affects 27 million Americans, is the most common degenerative disease in the US, and is one of the major causes of disability in adults. OA is a degenerative disease characterized by a progressive erosion and loss of cartilage in a particular joint. It usually affects the weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and the hips, but also commonly involves the finger and foot joints, especially the end joints, and the spinal column from the neck down to the hips.

Loss of the cartilage cushion causes friction between the bones, leading to pain and limitation of joint mobility. Over years, the continuous use of the worn joint may irritate and inflame the cartilage, causing pain and swelling, and creating bone spurs around the joint. In severe cases, the joints can become disfigured.

Primary osteoarthritis: Considered “wear and tear” osteoarthritis, this type of osteoarthritis is more commonly diagnosed. Related to aging, people tend to develop this type of OA around age 55 or 60. Secondary osteoarthritis: This type of OA tends to strike at an earlier age, around 45 or 50, and has a specific cause, such as an injury, an effect of obesity, genetics, inactivity, or other diseases.

General Risk Factors for OA

  • Older age
  • Gender (women are 3x more likely to develop OA)
  • Joint injuries from sports or accidents
  • Certain occupations (repetitive stress)
  • Obesity (excess weight puts stress on hip and knee joints, and the spine)
  • Inactivity (leads to weight gain and possible obesity)
  • Genetics

Symptoms of OA

  • Symptoms appear slowly, and worsen over time
  • Symptoms usually first appear in the large joints such as the hips and knees
  • Pain and stiffness, especially first thing in the morning, or after resting
  • Limited range of motion that goes away after movement
  • Mild swelling and tenderness around a joint
  • Clicking or cracking when a joint bends
  • A “grating” or “scraping” sensation occurs when moving the joint
  • Pain that is worse after activity or in the evening
  • Bone spurs around joints

Epigenetics and the Metabolic Theory of Osteoarthritis

Unhealthy foods and other environmental triggers activate “suicide” genes that produce harmful chemicals that actually break down cartilage and lead to the development of OA. Inflammatory diets high in sugar and fat create a vicious cause-and-effect cycle of inflammation that leads to OA, as well as many other serious diseases

Metabolic risk factors

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Chronically high blood sugar with insulin resistance
  • Excessive inflammation
  • Hormonal imbalance

Metabolic Syndrome – (3 out of 5)

  • Abdominal obesity
  • High serum triglycerides
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated fasting blood sugar

An estimated 47 million people have metabolic syndrome

Obesity: People with obesity often eat nutrient- poor diets high in fat and sugar. Visceral fat cells

produce inflammatory chemicals and hormones that destroy cartilage in the joints, and excess

weight puts undue stress on the joints.

Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance both causes, and is caused by obesity and high blood

sugar levels, leading to metabolic syndrome, oxidative stress, hormone imbalance andincreased inflammation in the body.

Inflammation: Inflammation is caused by obesity, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and

oxidative stress (“rust”) from an unhealthy diet.

Hormone imbalance: Hormones produce chemical signals that influence proper functioning of the whole body. Poor nutrition causes hormone imbalances, and hormone imbalances cause nutrient deficiencies that increases bone loss, muscle breakdown, fat accumulation, and inflammation that breaks down cartilage.

Nutrition and Osteoarthritis

Good nutrition is critical in reducing inflammation in the body and limiting the formation of destructive chemicals that break down cartilage and cause osteoarthritis.

  • Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich, high-fiber vegetables and fruits
  • Eat a diet low in sugar and high in omega-3 fats
  • Limit intake of refined foods
  • Supplement with vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals, and herbs
  • Avoiding nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers), as well as gluten, may help reduce pain from OA

Foods for managing osteoarthritis

  • Coldwater fish rich in omega-3s
  • Organic, low-glycemic vegetables, grains, and fresh fruits
  • Olive oil (monounsaturated fat)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Garlic and onions
  • Organic, grass-fed meat, poultry and eggs (small amounts)

Standard Treatment for OA

Standard treatment primarily includes steroids, nonsteroidal drugs, and painkillers. These drugs have serious side effects, treat only symptoms without addressing the root cause, do not change the course of the disease or improve the condition of the cartilage, and can actually accelerate the progression of OA. In advanced cases, surgery is often done to repair or replace the joint.

Alternative treatments for osteoarthritis

  • Acupuncture or acupressure
  • Moxibustion
  • Massage
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Detoxification
  • Mild exercise, such as swimming, walking, tai chi, water aerobics, and yoga

Supplements for OA

  • Omega-3s (anti-inflammatory)
  • B Vitamins (supports detoxification)
  • Vitamin C (antioxidant)
  • Calcium (prevents bone loss)
  • Vitamin D (aids calcium uptake)
  • Magnesium (balances calcium)
  • Vitamin E (increases cartilage)

For those with OA or a strong family history of OA, to control pain and prevent joint collapse:

  • Glucosamine HCl: 1500mg/day
  • Chondroitin: 1200mg/day
  • MSM: 1500mg/day
  • SAMe: 200-600mg/day

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