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Nutritional Supplements for Osteoarthritis

Nutritional Supplements and Osteoarthritis

Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation in joints. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and commonly occurs in the hips, knees, and spine. It also often affects the finger joints, the joint at the base of the thumb, and the joint at the base of the big toe.Common treatment methods don’t change the progression of osteoarthritis. However, two nutritional supplements — glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates — have been studied to determine if they can relieve pain or perhaps slow the breakdown of cartilage, which is a significant part of osteoarthritis.

1.What Is Cartilage?

Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in normal joints (See Figure 1). Its main function is to reduce friction in the joints and serve as a “shock absorber.” The shock-absorbing quality of normal cartilage comes from its ability to change shape when compressed.

Cartilage can change shape because it is more than 70% water, which can be redistributed with movement. For example, when force is applied to a knee, as in standing or walking, some water from cartilage enters the joint and coats the cartilage. When the force is no longer present, such as when you sit down, the water is reabsorbed and the cartilage regains its normal shape. Because cartilage does not contain nerves, you do not feel pain when these changes in shape occur.

Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in a joint to become stiff and lose its elasticity, making it more susceptible to damage. Over time, the cartilage may wear away in some areas, greatly decreasing its ability to act as a shock absorber. As the cartilage wears away, tendons and ligaments stretch, causing pain. If the condition worsens, the bones could rub against each other.

Collagen: In addition to being a key component of cartilage, the protein collagen is also found in the skin and tendons. Collagen provides cartilage with its strength, and creates a framework that houses the other components of cartilage.

Proteoglycans: This substance is a combination of protein and sugar. Proteoglycans are woven around and through collagen, allowing cartilage to change shape when compressed. Proteoglycans trap water in cartilage, which is redistributed with movement.
Water: Healthy cartilage contains more than 70% water. In addition to functioning as the shock absorber in cartilage, it lubricates and nourishes the cartilage.
Chondrocytes: These cells produce new collagen and proteoglycans in cartilage. Chondrocytes also release enzymes which help break down and dispose of aging collagen and proteoglycans.

Osteoarthritis Treatments

The goals of osteoarthritis treatment are to decrease joint pain and stiffness, improve joint mobility and stability, and increase the ability to perform daily activities. Osteoarthritis is usually treated with medications, exercise, applying heat and cold to the painful joint, use of supportive devices such as crutches or canes, and controlling one’s weight. Surgery may help relieve osteoarthritis pain when other treatment options have not been effective.

The type of osteoarthritis treatment prescribed will depend on several factors, including a person’s age, activity level, occupation, overall health, medical history, and severity of the condition.

Yet, traditional treatments for osteoarthritis do not change the progression of the disease. Because the breakdown of cartilage is a significant part of osteoarthritis, researchers have been focusing their efforts on finding agents to prevent this breakdown. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are two nutritional supplements currently being studied to determine their usefulness in treating osteoarthritis.

What Are Glucosamine Sulfate and Chondroitin Sulfate?

Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are components of normal cartilage. These nutritional supplements are available in pharmacies and health food stores without a prescription. They are the building blocks for proteoglycans and appear to stimulate chondrocytes to make new collagen and proteoglycans. The supplements are well-tolerated and safe.

Because these supplements stimulate the production of new cartilage components, it is thought that they may be able to help the body repair cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis. However, much of the research on glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate has been done in vitro (in test tubes outside the body) and in animals. To date, there has not been any convincing proof in humans that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates can help rebuild cartilage or prevent damage to cartilage.

How Can Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfates Help Osteoarthritis Pain?

Although it has not been proven that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates rebuild cartilage, there is evidence from some studies that these compounds can reduce osteoarthritis pain, usually within several weeks to months after initiating therapy. An increasing number of osteoarthritis patients are trying glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates.The safety and long-term effectiveness of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate for osteoarthritis needs to be confirmed by larger studies.The supplements are marketed under different names, with different strengths and levels of purity. Unfortunately at this time, there is no government monitoring to ensure the purity of these products.It is important to consult with your doctor before starting any new osteoarthritis treatments. Your doctor can review the other drugs you are taking and help you decide whether or not these supplements are right for you. In addition, always follow the instructions on the medication label. Do not take more of the supplements than is recommended.

Home Remedies for Osteoarthritis

When you have osteoarthritis (OA), the world looks different. Every chair, gas pump, and grocery store shelf presents a new challenge and chance for a flare-up. The world won’t change to suit your OA, but you’re in control of what happens at home. A few small tweaks to your daily routine may make a big difference.

If you have pain when you stand or walk, try braces or shoe inserts. They keep direct pressure off your joints. Ask your doctor for recommendations. Stock your drawers with tools that make it easier to grip and grab objects. A buttonhook takes the pain out of shirt buttons. Scissors with spring action make it easier to cut.

Rearrange cabinets so that the heaviest objects are stored near your waist to prevent bending and adding pressure to your knees if that’s where your OA pain is located. Osteoarthritis flare-ups don’t wait for you to stand up. When you’re sitting or sleeping, position pillows so that they provide support for your neck and back.

Experiment with heat and cold. Figure out which one your OA responds to best and use it to keep pain and stiffness at a minimum. If heat does the trick, try warm baths or showers to get the blood pumping around painful joints. Twenty minutes with a heating pad also helps, as do these methods:

Moist heat pads from your local drugstore. Make your own by slipping a wet washcloth in a freezer bag. Heat it in a microwave for a few seconds, wrap it in a towel, and apply it to your skin.

Soothe achy hand joints. Rub them with mineral oil, put on rubber dishwashing gloves, and hold them under warm tap water. Try a warm paraffin wax bath for sore hands and feet. You can buy one at drugstores and beauty supply shops. Plug in the paraffin bath to melt the wax. This can take up to 30 minutes. Dip your arm or foot in a few times to coat and wrap with a plastic bag to keep the heat in. Peel off the wax after 20 minutes.

If you have sharp pain, try something cold. Unlike heat, cold slows circulation, reduces swelling, and numbs nerve endings that send pain signals to your brain. Cold baths are no fun, but your aching joint might like one. Parts of your body, like your hands, feet, knees, or elbows, can take a short swim in a bowl of ice and water.

Icy gel packs often come in a sleeve, which helps them surround your joint. You can make your own with a zippered plastic bag, two cups of water, and some rubbing alcohol. Or just use the old frozen bag of vegetables trick. Whatever method you use, put a 20-minute time limit on it. And don’t forget the everyday joys that shift the focus off your pain. Surround yourself with photos of people you love, spend time in the sunshine, and listen to music that makes you happy. Good smells and comfort food (but not too much!) get the positive juices flowing, as well.

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