According to Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the USA. Though there are several other causes of different types of arthritis, the most common cause is cartilage degeneration. The type of arthritis that develops, in that case, is called osteoarthritis.
Cartilage is a cushioning surface in the joints - it covers the ends of the bones that comprise a joint, allowing smooth, seamless movement with minimal friction. If cartilage degenerates or wears down, bone ends rub against each other and get damaged, and joints become swollen and painful.
The main reason for cartilage wearing down is years of stress on it due to using joints. Apart from this degeneration caused by aging, which is hardly preventable, obesity is another significant reason for cartilage changes. More weight means more pressure on the joints, and this pressure will cause the cartilage to wear down more quickly and to a greater extent. Knees are the most affected joints in both cases as they are the most loaded (this is also called gonarthrosis). The hip joint comes in second place(also called coxarthrosis).
Is it Possible to Increase Cartilage in Joints?
Unfortunately, the potential for cartilage repair in adults is practically non-existent. Once damaged, the cartilage does not spontaneously heal, and degeneration continues to go on and on. Although cartilage possesses specialized cells that could theoretically repair this complex tissue, it does not have blood vessels, and this is the main reason for the limited regeneration potential.
There are some ways in which doctors can stimulate cartilage production, for example, microfracturing. The problem with this surgical method is that the cartilage produced is not the same as the cartilage lost – it is more like scar tissue.
Some good news came in August 2020 from a group of scientists at Stanford University. Their research showed it is possible to stimulate degenerated cartilage by using specific substances. It could be the future of osteoarthritis treatment.
However, current treatment options are limited and mostly aimed toward pain control and reducing inflammation. Doctors will prescribe the right drugs and propose other treatment options, but a thing anyone can do to slow down the course of the disease and prevent further cartilage decay is making some changes in the diet. Some useful suggestions will be listed here.
Foods for Joint Repair
While using oxygen in its tissues and organs, the body produces unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells, and this is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress plays a significant role in osteoarthritis development.
Vitamin C and, to a less extent, vitamin E, are potent antioxidants, which can help you counter free radicals. Vitamin C is also crucial for collagen production, and collagen is a major component of cartilage. Studies suggest that vitamin C cannot prevent osteoarthritis, but it can slow down the disease progress.
Increasing intake of vitamin C is recommended for people suffering from osteoarthritis. This vitamin can be found in oranges, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, beet, broccoli, red peppers, raspberries, grapefruit, pineapple, lemon, pomegranate…
Apart from vitamins C and E, other powerful antioxidants can be found in various fruits and vegetables, even in spices.
Avocado contains monounsaturated oils with antioxidant effect and is also rich in vitamin E.
Cherries are rich in anthocyanins, which fight inflammation.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that helps to reduce the pain and swelling.
Onions, garlic, green tea, chia seeds, apples, carrots, tomatoes, olive oil, and many other fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory agents. They are helpful for every person coping with osteoarthritis.
Vitamin K, vitamin D, and calcium
This triad is essential for healthy bones and joints and is therefore always supplemented in diseases such as osteoporosis. But many researches have shown these three could also be connected to the development of osteoarthritis. Lower levels of vitamin K and calcium in the blood were linked with a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, as well as more extensive cartilage damage - especially when it comes to knees.
How to repair knee cartilage naturally? Increase the intake of vitamins K and D, and calcium. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Brussel sprouts, kale, and parsley are a great source of vitamin K and vitamin D. Vitamin D can also be found in eggs and fish (for example, salmon, sardines, tuna, or shrimps). The most valuable source of calcium is dairy products.
Collagen is a complex protein, and a building block of connective tissues, including cartilage. Just like any other protein, collagen is produced in our body from amino acids. Any source of proteins could therefore be a source of amino acids for the body to build collagen, but it is suggested that intake of food rich in collagen itself is much more useful for this purpose. The reason is probably that collagen offers the right amino acids in the right ratio.
Bone broth is a good source of collagen. For those not keen on this dish, there are many hydrolyzed collagen supplements on the market.
Foods to avoid
Apart from adding anti-inflammatory agent to the diet, harmful foods must be removed from it. White bread, sweetened beverages, candies, and snacks contain processed and refined sugar, while red meat and greasy food contain saturated fats. These are known to promote inflammation and worsen the symptoms of osteoarthritis. A 2020 study by Strath and associates showed that a low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet is beneficial for patients suffering from this disease since it provides relief from pain.
Losing weight must be a goal for every obese patient with osteoarthritis. It is necessary to relieve knees of unnecessary burden, slow down the disease progression and save as much cartilage as possible. Losing weight leads to a reduction of swelling, pain, and other osteoarthritis symptoms.
Supplementation with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can be useful in patients with osteoarthritis, although opinions are divided. A doctor will recommend this type of supplements when needed.
Regular exercise is beneficial for the normal development of bones, muscles, and joints. It can probably take part in preventing osteoarthritis. However, in people with advanced disease vigorous exercise can worsen the damage, so it is better to perform moderate, multimodal activities.
Osteoarthritis treatment remains symptomatic. Each patient gets a personalized treatment plan, including medications, physical therapy, injections, and even surgical replacement of the joint. As long as causative treatment options are not developed, the goal is to prevent the disease in the first place and then to slow down its progression. Modification of the diet and the lifestyle can be an important addition to achieve this.
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