Degenerative arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a common condition among the elderly. How exactly does it occur, and what can be done to slow down its progression and provide proper care? Let’s delve into these questions in this article!
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, also known as “degenerative joint disease,” is a condition in which joints experience degeneration and wear over time, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling at the joint area. This condition can impact functional abilities.
The causes of osteoarthritis include factors such as poor posture (uneven joint stress), excessive body weight, prolonged overuse, and natural aging. Ultimately, these factors contribute to the degradation of joint cartilage. The cartilage gradually becomes thinner or even disappears, leading to a lack of proper cushioning for the bones. Patients may experience stiffness, pain, and eventually have their activities affected. Additionally, this condition indirectly affects the quality of life.
💡Progression of Osteoarthritis:
At the Cartilage: Gradual reduction of joint lubricating fluid ➜ Cracks develop in joint cartilage ➜ Gradual loss of joint cartilage ➜ Narrowing of the joint space
At the Bones: Formation of bone spurs
What is the symptoms of osteoarthritis?
The symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain and swelling, which can be particularly noticeable when going up and down stairs. Some patients experience joint stiffness, especially in the morning upon waking up. Joints might produce sounds during normal movements. In more severe cases, symptoms may include joint deformities and even muscle atrophy.
|mild||joint swelling, stiffness, and soreness|
|moderate||joint stiffness, a sense of weakness in the knees, and intense pain|
|severe||Difficulty standing, visible deformities, and other irreversible damages|
How to treat osteoarthritis?
When it comes to treating osteoarthritis, the current clinical approach focuses on identifying and correcting the underlying causes of joint damage, relieving pain, and improving or maintaining normal joint function. For individuals with mild symptoms, non-invasive physical therapy (rehabilitation), correcting poor posture, engaging in moderate exercise, and weight management (especially for those with a Body Mass Index, BMI, over 25) might be considered. If these methods don’t bring improvement or for individuals with moderate symptoms, options like anti-inflammatory steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and intra-articular injections of hyaluronic acid preparations can be considered. If joint pain persists and remains unmanageable, surgical intervention becomes the final solution.
5 Beneficial Nutrients for Joint Care
1. Fish Oil
A review article details the significant role of fatty acid derivatives in the progression of osteoarthritis . Another study found that patients with degenerative joint arthritis have a higher ratio of inflammatory-promoting Omega-6 fatty acids in their bodies .
As depicted in the diagram above, the left side represents Omega-6 fatty acids, which belong to the Omega-6 series and ultimately promote inflammation. Conversely, the right side represents Omega-3 fatty acids, which belong to the Omega-3 series and have anti-inflammatory effects after metabolism.
Due to the elevated levels of Omega-6 in the bodies of individuals with degenerative joint arthritis, increasing the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids is necessary to reduce inflammatory responses. Fish oil is a highly suitable nutrient for this purpose, as it contains abundant Omega-3 fatty acids EPA/DHA. Furthermore, human studies have confirmed that moderate supplementation of fish oil contributes to alleviating knee joint pain .
Curcumin, derived from turmeric, is a polyphenolic compound with a high level of safety and numerous pharmacological and biological activities, making it widely researched. As early as 2009, a study focused on knee osteoarthritis patients who were given either curcumin extract or the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. The results indicated that the effectiveness of curcumin extract in improving joint pain was comparable to ibuprofen, with fewer side effects associated with curcumin extract .
In a study conducted last year, knee osteoarthritis patients were given curcumin or the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. The results showed that curcumin’s improvement in pain was similar to diclofenac, and most importantly, curcumin led to significantly fewer gastrointestinal side effects compared to diclofenac .
Curcumin exhibits similar effects to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in terms of efficacy, while having lower side effects. However, it’s important to note that the bioavailability and activity of curcumin in the body are relatively low. Therefore, if curcumin is to be used to assist patients with degenerative joint arthritis, careful attention should be given to enhancing its bioavailability through suitable techniques. Otherwise, taking excessive amounts might not necessarily yield effective results.
Further Reading: 7 Benefits and 8 Side Effects of Turmeric (Curcumin)
Further Reading: 4 Tips to Increase Curcumin Absorption
Glucosamine is inevitably mentioned whenever degenerative joint arthritis is discussed. Glucosamine had its time in the limelight within the field of osteoarthritis, but in recent years, it has fallen from grace and gradually been replaced by other nutritional components. This shift is primarily due to earlier research indicating that daily supplementation of an appropriate amount of glucosamine sulfate could promote the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), increase synovial fluid production, and assist in the normal functioning of cartilage. However, with the accumulation of results from numerous international clinical trials, it has been discovered that the benefits of glucosamine for improving arthritis vary from person to person, and there is still no consistent conclusion on the international level. In Taiwan, starting from October 2018, the National Health Insurance stopped subsidizing medications containing glucosamine.
4. Undenatured Collagen type II (UC-II)
Currently, the rising star in the treatment of degenerative joint arthritis is undenatured collagen type II (UC-II). UC-II is primarily extracted from chicken sternum cartilage. In comparison to the commonly available collagen protein, which is usually in the form of hydrolyzed collagen, UC-II is produced without enzymatic breakdown. This allows it to maintain the triple helical structure of collagen and preserve its most complete biological activity. In the image below, the left side shows UC-II, where the triple helical structure is clearly visible. On the right side is denatured collagen protein, where the structure has been significantly disrupted, and the complete triple helix arrangement cannot be observed.
The literature indicates that UC-II activates specific immune cells, leading to the transformation of T cells into regulatory T cells (T regulatory cells or Treg cells). Regulatory T cells release anti-inflammatory cytokines, which help reduce joint inflammation and promote cartilage repair .
In clinical studies, two separate comparisons were made between UC-II alone and a combination of glucosamine with chondroitin sulfate in terms of their effects on osteoarthritis patients. The results showed that UC-II outperformed the glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate combination in terms of pain reduction, improvement in stiffness symptoms, and even enhancement of daily activities  . Based on clinical trials, a daily dose of 40 milligrams of UC-II has been shown to improve joint comfort, flexibility, and mobility in osteoarthritis patients  .
5. Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, plays a crucial role in joint synovial fluid as a cushioning system, effectively buffering physical impact to reduce joint wear and tear. Literature reports have shown a significant decrease in hyaluronic acid concentration or molecular weight in the synovial fluid of osteoarthritis patients  , which is why clinical treatment often involves hyaluronic acid injections.
Supplementation of hyaluronic acid is not limited to injections; it can also be taken orally. Academic research utilizing isotope tracking to monitor the distribution of orally administered hyaluronic acid has indicated its presence in various tissues, including joints. Moreover, the residual duration of orally administered hyaluronic acid in the body surpasses that of joint injections (lasting 14-18 hours) and can persist for up to 24 hours .
Hyaluronic acid works through mechanisms such as neutralizing free radicals, anti-inflammation, pain relief, and protecting ongoing cartilage damage to alleviate symptoms of arthritis . Clinical evidence demonstrates that hyaluronic acid supplementation effectively improves knee discomfort, enhances nearby muscle strength around the joint, and reduces pain sensation .
The primary causes of osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, are aging and improper usage. However, as age-related changes are irreversible, the best course of action is to prevent excessive strain and practice proper maintenance while incorporating the right dietary supplements. By doing so, we can extend the lifespan of our joints and promote their overall health and well-being.