The Health Index
Osteoarthritis is the most common of all joint diseases. It is characterised by the destruction of the cartilage layer of a joint and the associated bone changes. The condition can severely affect a person's ability to move freely. The affected joints become inflamed, swollen and painful. The hands, knees and hips are most commonly affected, but any joint can become diseased.
Cartilage forms a protective, springy layer sitting on either end of the bone, which forms a joint. It is nourished by the fluid (synovial fluid) surrounding it. A healthy layer of cartilage acts as a shock absorber. Under pressure, the cartilage gets compressed, then expands again when the pressure is relieved. During this process, the cartilage is soaked in synovial fluid. If the cartilage dries up and wears out, bone rubs against bone, which causes pain and restricts movement of the joint.
What are the causes?
Sometimes an accident or a congenital malposition (dysplasia) is the cause of premature wear and tear - for example bowlegs. However, osteoarthritis is now primarily seen as a chronic inflammatory disease; it is inflammation that leads to cartilage breakdown and pain. Being overweight is a significant risk factor; excessive abdominal fat fires up systemic inflammation that ultimately damages the cartilage.
In addition, every extra pound puts a double and triple burden on your load-bearing joints: during normal walking, for example, the knees have to bear 2.5 times the body weight, and when descending stairs, even 3.5 times.
What are the symptoms?
Osteoarthritis begins with a feeling of stiffness, sometimes swelling of the joint appears. As it progresses, it usually first causes pain on exertion, then permanent pain with restricted movement.
How can a nutrition practitioner help?
In the management of osteoarthritis, diet is key. With a nutritious diet and moderate exercise, it is possible to significantly improve one’s quality of life. Nutritional therapy for osteoarthritis is based on two pillars: a) anti-inflammatory diet, b) relief of pressure on the joints through weight reduction.
A nutrition practitioner will ask questions about your overall health and health history, diet, lifestyle and exercise habits. They will look at your food diary to see where there may be room for improvement. Your nutrition practitioner may also recommend functional testing to assess your nutrition status. They will then develop a customised diet brimming with anti-inflammatory foods while reducing inflammatory ingredients. A supplement and lifestyle plan may complement the diet.