Arthritis is not just one disease but a class of diseases affecting the joints and connective tissue of the body. There are more than 100 different diseases that are classified as arthritis, causing pain, swelling and hindered movements in the joints and connective tissue. In the United States, it is estimated that nearly 43 million people--15 percent of the population--have some form of arthritis.
The best-known type is osteoarthritis (OA), affecting nearly 80 percent of people over 50. In this form of the disease, chondrocytes, which normally produce flexible cartilage, are replaced by osteoblasts, which produce hard bone. The causes of OA are unknown, but its symptoms include joint pain, stiffness or swelling.
Other types of arthritis are actually autoimmune diseases, in which the body turns against its own tissues for an unknown reason. Inflammatory arthritic syndromes (i.e., fibromyalgia), systemic rheumatic diseases (i.e., lupus), and metabolic bone and joint diseases (i.e., gout) are all types of arthritis. However, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the overall second most common form of arthritis. This lifelong disease occurs in about 3 percent of the adult U.S. population, as well as in nearly 300,000 children with juvenile RA. RA is three times more likely to develop in women than men. In RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, causing inflammation and pain. It most often attacks the joints symmetrically; RA's characteristic chronic inflammation causes deterioration of the joint, pain, limited movement and even deformity.
Conventional treatment for arthritis is fairly standard across types. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are used to relieve swelling, while painkillers, including acetaminophen or aspirin, are prescribed to relieve pain. The autoimmune varieties of arthritis are being treated with stronger drugs, such as those used in chemotherapy, that suppress the immune response. They carry serious side effects, including blood abnormalities, kidney damage or vision damage.
Because conventional treatments for arthritis do not actually stop the progression of the disease and carry such serious side effects, nutritional therapy is commonly advised. One such therapy being researched for its ability to improve mobility and flexibility is collagen. Both bovine and chicken collagens have been studied for their ability to work with the immune system to promote joint health. InterHealth Nutraceuticals recently introduced UC-II, a whole, undenatured type II chicken collagen ingredient. Biochemically, there are five types of collagen, but type II is the principal structural protein in joint cartilage.
According to David Trentham, M.D., RA results from T cells reacting to an antigen within the joint. Because current therapy is immunosuppressive, the immune system cannot react to other health hazards. Trentham explained that giving patients a low dose of the antigen over time could help patients develop peripheral tolerance or disease suppression. Through a series of immunological events, patches of lymphoid tissue in the small intestine that are exposed to type II collagen turn off the immune response that may impact the type II collagen present in joint cartilage. This process is referred to as oral tolerization.
Trentham and others have conducted several human clinical studies on undenatured type II collagen and its effect on RA. In one study, six of ten RA patients taking undenatured type II collagen for three months showed substantial improvement after supplementation.1 A follow-up, 90-day, double blind, placebo-controlled study on patients with severe RA found that 28 patients showed significant improvement. Other studies have shown similar results for patients with juvenile RA and early RA.2,3 In the most recent study, Trentham found that following treatment with undenatured type II collagen, 21 of 54 RA patients (39 percent) demonstrated significant improvement, while only 11 of 57 patients (19 percent) taking placebo showed improvement.4
While the studies have focused on RA, Trentham said the results might be applied to OA, which is often caused by an underlying immune disorder. According to Trentham, the inflammation and swelling in OA is often caused by the same T-cell mediated pathogenesis seen in RA inflammation.
Other types of collagen are available on the market; however, Trentham stated that "type II collagen must be in its native, or undenatured, form to be effective." Native type II collagen has a triple helix molecular structure, whereas denatured or hydrolyzed type II collagen is typically subjected to chemical or heat processing, which may change the collagen's structure and ability to impact the autoimmune response. Undenatured type II collagen contains epitopes (binding sites on undenatured collagen molecules), which are necessary for conferring oral tolerance; epitopes are destroyed during heat or chemical processing.
UC-II is protected under several U.S. patents (Nos. 5,645,581; 5,637,321; 5,529,786; and 5,750,144). The patents cover the preparation of animal tissue for use in alleviating the symptoms of autoimmune arthritis in mammals, as well as the process and product for treatment of RA. InterHealth also has several worldwide patents pending.
1. Trentham D et al. "Effects of Oral Administration of Type II Collagen on Rheumatoid Arthritis." Science. 261:1727-1731, 1993.
2. Barnett et al. "A Pilot Trial of Oral Type II Collagen in the Treatment of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis." Arthritis Rheum. 39:623-625, 1996.
3. Sieper et al. "Oral Type II Collagen Treatment in Early Rheumatoid Arthritis." Arthritis Rheum. 39:41-44, 1996.
4. Barnett et al. "Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis with Oral Type II Collagen." Arthritis Rheum. 141:290-295, 1998.