Dietary Supplements For Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis imageOsteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis and can lead to chronic pain and disability.

Joint Wear and Tear

Degenerative joint disease, another term for OA, is a better description of the process of wear and tear that gradually softens and breaks down the joint cartilage that normally prevents bones from rubbing together. X-rays of osteoarthritic joints often show narrowing of the joint space and destructive changes in the adjacent bone. People with OA have joint pain and stiffness, particularly after physical activity. The hips, knees, ankles, and spine are most susceptible to OA since they absorb the brunt of gravitational forces. The fingers and neck are also prone to OA.

Cartilage Health

Joint cartilage is made up of cells, called chondrocytes, embedded in a substance called the extracellular matrix. One of the primary components of this matrix is a material called proteoglycan. This material helps cartilage absorb the forces of friction. With normal aging, the proteoglycan content of the matrix decreases. This decrease can be accelerated by injury, excessive mechanical force, or joint deformity. This explains why certain occupations, like machine operators and athletes, become disabled from OA sooner than the rest of us. It also explains why obesity, which adds considerable stress to joints of the lower extremities, greatly increases the risk of OA, particularly in the knees. Even after OA begins to set in, there is evidence that regular exercise can delay or prevent the onset of pain and disability. Aerobic activity protects against obesity, while weight training enhances the strength and flexibility of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joints, which improves joint stability and resilience. Keep in mind that acute injuries and repetitive strain increase the risk of OA. Therefore, exercise is only beneficial to joint health if it is done gradually and with proper preparation and equipment.

Treating Osteoarthritis

Standard treatments for symptomatic OA include:
  • Physical therapy to increase the strength and flexibility of affected joints
  • Prescription or nonprescription pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Direct injections of more powerful anti-inflammatory steroid medication into the joint
  • Direct injections of hyaluronic acid to help with joint lubrication
  • Joint replacement surgery
Although often effective at relieving pain, these interventions do nothing to slow or reverse the deterioration of cartilage. Therefore, researchers have turned their attention to 2 natural constituents of human cartilage thought to preserve, or even enhance, cartilage integrity— glucosamine and chondroitin.

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