Osteoarthritis (also called degenerative arthritis) is the breakdown of the cartilage in joints. It is the most common form of arthritis and can affect the hands, feet, spine and weight bearing joints like knees and hips. With aging, the water content of the cartilage increases and the protein makeup of cartilage degenerates, and with repetitive use over the years inflammation irritates the cartilage, causing joint pain, swelling and degeneration. In advanced cases, there is a total loss of the cartilage cushion between the bones of the joints.
Osteoarthritis can be secondary to conditions like obesity, diabetes, gout and other hormone disorders.
Aside from weight reduction and avoiding activities that exert excessive stress on the joint cartilage, there is no specific treatment to halt cartilage degeneration or to repair damaged cartilage in osteoarthritis. Treatments which may help are rest, exercise, weight reduction and physiotherapy. Weight loss is particularly important when large, weight-bearing joints are involved, such as the hips or knees.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are very popular nutritional supplements in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is a precursor to glycosaminoglycan, which is used in cartilage formation and repair. Chondroitin sulphate is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage, providing it with resiliency. Although controversial, both supplements have been extensively studied for years, and anecdotally people claim less discomfort when supplementing with them. Research has suggested that glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation may help exercise related joint injuries in susceptible individuals, at doses of 500-1,000mg and 200-300mg respectively, three times daily with food. Glucosamine and chondroitin may have a synergistic effect, so use them together. Avoid bogus supplements like shark cartilage that are marketed for joint pains, but contain ineffective doses of glucosamine. Patients taking blood-thinners should be careful taking chondroitin as it can increase the blood-thinning and cause excessive bleeding.
A good intake of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oils, may also have some anti-inflammatory properties. Try to include either fish like salmon, mackerel, pilchards, sprats, sardines or trout 3-4 times per week, or ground linseeds or flaxseed oil frequently.
The main nutrition principles in the treatment of osteoarthritis, as demonstrated in the meal plan example below, are to reduce your weight, eat a sensible healthy diet, include sources of omega-3 fats and consider using glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. The meal plan is nutritionally balanced to suit an average individual to help lose weight. However, please do vary food choices and adapt to suit an individual's own lifestyle, daily routine and nutritional requirements. Use this to give you an idea, and drink plenty of water through the day.