The Role of Nutrition in Osteoarthritis: Part One
The Role of Nutrition in Osteoarthritis
As we move into winter many of those living with arthritis will find their symptoms worsening, often more noticeably when the weather changes. I certainly know people who can feel a change in the weather coming before it shows in the sky, and the phenomenon is common enough that science has tried to figure out why that is.
Why Does the Weather Affect Arthritis Symptoms?
It turns out that arthritic pain levels generally increase when there is a sharp drop in temperature or barometric pressure or, for some others, when there is a rise in barometric pressure and humidity.
One theory is atmospheric changes affect circulation and fluid pressure in the joints, resulting in increased inflammation. Another theory proposes that the thinning of cartilage, which accompanies arthritis, exposes the nerves in the affected joints making them more sensitive to pressure changes. Changes in air pressure can also cause muscles and tendons to contract and expand, increasing joint pain.
A British study released in 2019 concluded that “higher relative humidity and wind speed, and lower atmospheric pressure, were associated with increased pain severity in people with long-term pain conditions”. (Source)
According to the Arthritis Society of Canada there are a few things one can do to counteract this tendency of the weather to increase pain levels.
If symptoms are worse in colder weather:
- Take frequent warm baths or showers.
- Use a hot water bottle, warm pack or heating pad on the affected joints, remembering to put a cloth barrier between your skin and the heat source.
- When outside be sure to cover exposed skin and dress in multiple layers.
- Try soaking sore hands in warm water, or the “oil and glove treatment”. This involves rubbing mineral oil into the hands, putting on a pair of rubber gloves, and then soaking the hands in warm water for ten minutes.
If symptoms are worse in warm weather:
- Take frequent cool showers, or use a cold pack on the affected areas, on hot days. As with the heating pad, put a cloth barrier between your skin and the cold pack.
- Stay hydrated.
- Avoid being outdoors during the hottest time of the day, and be sure to use a hat and light colored clothing.
- Use cooling topical creams or sprays designed to treat arthritic pain.
Well, that was some fairly basic advice from the Arthritis Society, but as with all such “societies”, they exist to help people “manage” symptoms with simple lifestyle advice along with recommending pharmaceutical solutions. I think we can do better than that. Unlike this “society” I believe symptoms can be partially if not fully reversed, with proper long term application of dietary and nutritional advice.
On a simple level I usually recommend that those with arthritic conditions follow the Blood Type Diet (more about that in this newsletter), and perhaps use our JointStart Supreme product (to reduce inflammation and help rebuild connective tissue).
However, for those with severe osetoarthritis (OA), more may be required. Therefore we are going to embark on a rather long journey to examine those nutrients that have a scientifically proven relationship to OA, with the goal of providing solutions to this all too common crippling disease. Often just one missing nutrient can make a huge difference in healing a condition, or at least in controlling the symptoms sufficiently that one can get on with enjoying life.
If you suffer with OA, rest assured you are not alone: at this point in time roughly half a billion other people in the world also live with this degenerative joint disease, often accompanied by debilitating pain. And the numbers are expected to rise as the boomers age out and obesity rates rise.
While age and obesity are the two most common underlying factors leading to OA, other causes include joint injury, systemic inflammation, and genetic predisposition. And of course, according to the medical profession: “the detailed mechanisms underlying OA initiation and development are incompletely understood, and currently no interventions are available to effectively delay disease progression or to restore degraded cartilage”.
I beg to differ, and the following material will show evidence that, while the medical profession may not have any understanding of how nutritional deficiencies and toxic overload play into the formation of diseases such as OA, the scientific community has already done the research. Which we will now examine. (Remember, while the medical industry would have us think it is based on only science, there is a great divide between real science and the cheap science bought and paid for by the medical industry and Big Pharma.)
Being a primary cause of OA due to the extra “mechanical load” put upon the joints, “obesity is one of the most significant modifiable risks of OA, not only because of the altered biomechanics of the joint but also due to the release of key inflammatory factors by adipose tissue, resulting in low-grade chronic inflammation”. (Source)
Thus, many studies have examined obesity-induced OA and what factors might be of benefit for those with this condition. One primary discovery will come as no surprise to those of us with a good understanding of nutrition. This discovery is simply that a high intake of omega-6 fatty acids (seed oils) contributes to a worsening of OA by increasing inflammatory compounds in the body.
“The overconsumption of omega-6 PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) is highly associated with synovitis and cartilage degradation in obese patients, resulting from chronic inflammation. Conversely, omega-3 PUFAs-enriched diets reduce systemic inflammation, relieve pain, and improve joint function in patients with OA.”
This study concluded that simply supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can be a “preventive and therapeutic strategy for joint preservation in obesity-associated osteoarthritis”. (Source)
And, since this mechanism of inflammation is the same in all of us, obese or not, all cases of OA will benefit from supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids. (One option is to use our NutriKrill for this purpose, as krill oil showed “improvements in knee pain, stiffness, and physical function in adults with mild to moderate knee OA”. Source)
“Altered immune responses and low-grade systemic inflammation driven by gut dysbiosis are being increasingly recognized as contributing factors to the pathophysiology of OA which increased the interest in the so-called “gut-joint axis“.” (Source)
Is there anything the microbiome doesn’t influence? Apparently not. Well, in the case of OA, it appears that dysbiosis of the gut along with intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”) “are proposed to explain a gut-joint axis through the interaction with the host immune system”.
This leaky gut aspect is one good reason why following the aforementioned Blood Type Diet is important: inflammatory compounds – lectins – easily get into the blood through the permeable gut lining. (Also following my recommendations in the blog How 3 Nutrients Can Heal Most Diseases, will be required for healing a leaky gut.)
Now to another study based on examining OA among the obese, but as with omega-3s, all of us can benefit from this knowledge, obese or not.
A rodent study, from 2018, confirmed that it is dysbiosis of the gut microbiome that increases systemic inflammation in obesity-related OA, worsening the symptoms. So the researchers followed up this discovery by feeding the experimental mice a dietary prebiotic supplement (non digestible fibre oligofructose), improving the microbiome and increasing specific microbial species that reside there.
“These mice showed reduced systemic inflammation and ultimately were protected against cartilage loss, suggesting a novel approach to treat obesity-associated OA.”
(Source) The amazing thing to note here is that a healthy microbiome not only reduces inflammation but also protects against cartilage loss.
Now, in this study they did not impose specific microbial species on the rodents by giving them specific probiotics. They simply used a prebiotic, and the microbiome re-established an ideal state, encouraging the “good” bacteria to fully colonize, and keeping the “bad” bacteria in check.
There are however, a few studies showing specific probiotic species can have a positive effect on treating OA symptoms.
Two species, Bacillus subtilis and Enterococcus faecium, were found to “alleviate colonic oxidative stress and inflammation in OA rats by improving fecal metabolism and enhancing the colonic barrier” (i.e. reducing intestinal permeability). (Source)
In another mouse study, simple Lactobacillus Acidophilus (LA) had a huge impact on symptoms: “The clinical implications of our study highlight the therapeutic efficacy of LA in reducing pain molecules, cartilage-degrading enzymes and inflammatory cytokines by alteration of the microbiome of the GI tract. These changes result in alleviation of OA symptoms and prevent further degeneration of OA joint integrity.” (Source)
Be aware that, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, probiotic products with many strains and billions of bacteria, are often useless and even counterproductive in some cases. In the case just referred to, only one strain was used, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, and this one is perhaps the most common species in the microbiome and the first species discovered. (Which is why, back in the day, all probiotics were referred to as “acidophilus”.) The study above this one only used two species. Point being, for our purposes here, either focus on prebiotics, or seek out the specific species discussed above, or use a combination of both.
In Part Two I will continue to examine those nutrients with a specific benefit for treating symptoms of OA.