Joint health may not be a priority on our minds until pain, stiffness, and dysfunction develop. These symptoms can interfere with daily self-care activities, work-related functions, and recreational exercise.
Osteoarthritis is considered the most prevalent chronic joint disease. Typically, it affects the knees, hips, and hands. This can lead to cartilage damage, inflammation of synovial tissue, and pathological changes in the subchondral bone of affected joints.
In a recent systematic analysis, researchers examined the global prevalence of osteoarthritis from 1990 to 2017. Considering data from 195 countries and territories, they concluded that “osteoarthritis is a major public health challenge … and the burden is increasing in most countries.” The U.S. was among the top three countries with the highest age-standardized prevalence estimates of osteoarthritis in 2017.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, so prevention and management are important Unfortunately, many conventional therapies for osteoarthritis have significant limitations.
Medical Management Limitations for Osteoarthritis
The conventional medical treatments for osteoarthritis focus on managing symptoms or total joint replacement:
Considering the limitations of traditional, medical management for osteoarthritis, it is prudent to encourage patients to support joint health. At a minimum, this should include weight management.
Managing Weight to Maintain Joint Health
A significant underlying factor in the rising rates of osteoarthritis is the increasing prevalence of obesity. Excess body weight increases mechanical loads on hip and knee joints during physical activity. This can cause cartilage degeneration.
Body mass index (BMI) should not be the sole consideration when assessing the risk of excess body fat. Research indicates that an increase in waist circumference is a risk factor for osteoarthritis. Abdominal obesity is defined as a waist circumference of more than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.
Adipocytes produce and release adipokines, including leptin, which are similar in structure to cytokines and can cause inflammation. Notably, chondrocytes have leptin receptors that permit interactions and subject the cartilage cells to inflammation.
Maintaining a healthy body weight and waist circumference could go a long way toward managing osteoarthritis risk. For those who are overweight, losing more than 5% of body weight has produced significant improvement in knee osteoarthritis. Exercise can support weight loss efforts and may be individually tailored to improve pain and function.
Nutritional Support for Joint Health
In addition to weight management, our diet and specific nutritional components may help support joint health. Important dietary and supplemental considerations include:
By Marsha McCulloch, MS, RDN, LN