Healthspan staff September 14, 2018

From exercise to nutrition: the science-supported lifestyle changes that can help

If you’ve just received an osteoarthritis diagnosis, you are not alone. According to Arthritis Research UK, around one third of Brits have sought treatment for the condition in the over 45 age category alone – the equivalent of 8.75 million people. And, of those, 5 million are women.

The cause of osteoarthritis is still not exactly known, although it does appear to run in families, is more common and severe in women, can arise in joints that have been injured or undergone an operation, and may be more likely if you are overweight. It is the result of the inflammation, breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in the joints and, unsurprisingly, perhaps, symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, weakness and restricted mobility.

Although, treatments are available in the form of painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and steroid injections, among others; making changes to your lifestyle has also been scientifically and anecdotally proven to help alleviate symptoms. As with many medical conditions, however, what works for one person, may not work for you – so try the below suggestions and listen carefully to your body to find the healthy habits that best benefit your osteoarthritis.

Exercise for osteoarthritis

When joints are swollen and painful, staying active can be easier said than done. But moving not only strengthens the muscles that stabilise your joints, it also increases blood flow and oxygen delivery around the body, which can help alleviate pain and inflammation.

When it comes to osteoarthritis, a little and often, is the best approach:

  • Research published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research1 recommends walking 6,000 steps per day to protect against osteoarthritis-related mobility issues. Nordic walking can be particularly beneficial, as its use of walking poles relieves pressure from the joints.
  • Swimming is one of the best ways of exercising for those with osteoarthritis, according to Arthritis Research UK, as water supports the weight of the body, meaning there is less strain placed on joints.
  • The Florida Atlantic University2 noted that doing two 45-minute sessions of chair yoga per week, resulted in a reduction in osteoarthritic pain.

Aim for a mixture of both aerobic and strengthening exercise for osteoarthritis to retain stabilising muscle tone around the osteoarthritic joint – your GP or a physiotherapist will be able to help you devise a suitable training programme for your condition.

Nutrition for osteoarthritis

You may have already noticed that certain foods trigger a flare-up of your symptoms. Citrus and foods from the nightshade family, including tomatoes and aubergine, are often reported as being culprits, for example.

So, what should you consume to alleviate symptoms and prevent osteoarthritis worsening? The best diet for osteoarthritis is believed to be one that is similar to the Mediterranean diet, full of fish, pulses, nuts, olive oil, fruit and vegetables. The reason being that this diet is typically rich in myriad vitamins and minerals, plus omega-3 fatty acids and fibre. A study published in the journal, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, connects a fibre-rich diet with reduced symptoms of painful knee osteoarthritis.3

Vitamins and supplements for osteoarthritis

Although it is important to eat a varied diet, there are certain nutrients that are particularly beneficial for people with osteoarthritis. These include:

  • Calcium. Women who frequently consume fat-free or low-fat milk may delay the progression of osteoarthritis, according to a study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.4 Dairy-free? Look for calcium-fortified foods and fish with bones such as sardines.
  • Vitamin D. Low levels of this vitamin were found by the American College of Rheumatology to cause greater knee pain and difficulty in walking in patients with knee osteoarthritis.5 It is hard to get sufficient quantities of this so-called "sunshine vitamin" in UK, especially in winter months. Consider taking a supplement such as Healthspan Super Strength Vitamin D3.
  • Iron. Anaemia can be common in people with arthritis; reduce your risk with foods such as red meat, pulses and dark leafy green vegetables (broccoli has been shown to be particularly beneficial.)6
  • Selenium. According to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, people without enough selenium face a higher risk of knee osteoarthritis.7 Find it in Brazil nuts or the Healthspan Selenium supplement.
  • Essential fatty acids. The University of Surrey founds that taking 1g of fish oil a day reduced joint inflammation and pain in osteoarthritis patients.8

In addition, supplementation of glucosomine and chondroitin, compounds normally found in joint cartilage, may reduce osteoarthritis symptoms by improving the health of damaged cartilage in the affected joint. However, while some research has found this to be the case; other reports have noted no change in pain levels. Arthritis Research UK, therefore, suggests taking 1,500 mg glucosamine sulphate every day for three months and noting any improvement in your symptoms.

As glucosomine is typically made from shellfish, if you have allergies, or are vegetarian or vegan, opt for a supplement such as Healthspan Optiflex Glucosamine HCI, which was the first offering in the UK to be 100% shellfish-free. Seek medical advice, first, if you have diabetes or are taking an anti-coagulant such as warfarin.

Gut health for osteoarthritis

The importance of gut health – or, more specifically, the diversity of good bacteria in the body’s microbiome – is well known. And its benefits extend to those with osteoarthritis. A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center,9 found that people eating a high-fat, Western-style diet have higher numbers of pro-inflammatory bacteria in their body, speeding up the deterioration of joints. However, supplementing with prebiotics and probiotics, was shown to slow down cartilage breakdown.

Personal care for osteoarthritis

Your daily lifestyle can accelerate your osteoarthritis symptoms or make flare-ups worse. It is widely recommended to avoid anything that puts unnecessary extra pressure on your joints – wear low-heel/flat, thicker-soled shoes; lose excess weight, by way of a healthy weight-loss programme; pace your activities throughout the day; and, if you have knee osteoarthritis, you should also avoid sitting – or remaining in any position that requires the knee to bend – for extended periods, as this can, over time, weaken the stabilising muscles around the joint.

Finally, there is anecdotal evidence that complementary therapies such as acupuncture can reduce the severity of flare-ups.10

If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.


References
1Daniel K. White, Catrine Tudor-Locke, Yuqing Zhang, Roger Fielding, Michael LaValley, David T. Felson, K. Douglas Gross, Michael C. Nevitt, Cora E. Lewis, James Torner, Tuhina Neogi (2014). Daily walking and the risk of incident functional limitation in knee OA: An observational study. Arthritis Care & Research
2Juyoung Park, Ruth McCaffrey, David Newman, Patricia Liehr, Joseph G. Ouslander (2016). A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of Chair Yoga on Pain and Physical Function Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults With Lower Extremity Osteoarthritis, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
3David T Felson et al. (2017). Dietary intake of fibre and risk of knee osteoarthritis in two US prospective cohorts, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases
4Bing Lu, Jeffrey B. Driban, Jeffrey Duryea, Timothy McAlindon, Kate L. Lapane, Charles B. Eaton (2014). Milk consumption and progression of medial tibiofemoral knee osteoarthritis: Data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, Arthritis Care & Research; Shivani Sahni and Robert R McLean (2014). Got OA? Maybe Milk Can Help, Arthritis Care and Research
5American College of Rheumatology (2007). Low Vitamin D Levels May Worsen Osteoarthritis Of The Knee, ScienceDaily
6Rose K Davidson, Orla Jupp, Rachel de Ferrars, Colin D Kay, Kirsty L Culley, Rosemary Norton, Clare Driscoll, Tonia L Vincent, Simon T Donell, Yongping Bao, Ian M Clark (2013). Sulforaphane represses matrix-degrading proteases and protects cartilage from destruction in vitro and in vivo, Arthritis & Rheumatism
7University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2005). Study Links Low Selenium Levels With Higher Risk Of Osteoarthritis, ScienceDaily
8Sally Thomas, Heather Browne, Ali Mobasheri, Margaret P Rayman (2018). What is the evidence for a role for diet and nutrition in osteoarthritis?, Rheumatology
9Eric M. Schott, Christopher W. Farnsworth, Alex Grier, Jacquelyn A. Lillis, Sarah Soniwala, Gregory H. Dadourian, Richard D. Bell, Madison L. Doolittle, David A. Villani, Hani Awad, John P. Ketz, Fadia Kamal, Cheryl Ackert-Bicknell, John M. Ashton, Steven R. Gill, Robert A. Mooney, Michael J. Zuscik (2018). Targeting the gut microbiome to treat the osteoarthritis of obesity, JCI Insight
10John Wiley & Sons, Inc (2006). Osteoarthritis Patients Treated With Acupuncture Show Improvement, ScienceDaily

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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