Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 27 million American adults have doctor-diagnosed arthritis and one of every two adults will develop OA in their lifetime. Arthritis is also the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States (arthritis.org). It occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in the joints gradually deteriorates. The slick surface of the cartilage becomes rough, which I associate with fine-grit sandpaper. Imagine rubbing the back of your hand with superfine grit sandpaper constantly; eventually, you will wear a hole in your skin. The same occurs in the joints as the rough surface wears away the spongy connective tissue that is there to prevent bone rubbing on bone. This lack of cartilage leads to inflammation forming and therefore added pressure in the joint area. This added pressure pushes down on the nerve endings in the joint which leads to the sensation of pain.
Common symptoms of OA include:
- Pain in the affected joint and the surrounding areas (even muscles).
- Tenderness near the joint when light pressure is applied.
- Stiffness that may be most noticeable upon waking or after a period of inactivity.
- Loss of flexibility to the point where the joint movement can’t achieve its full range of motion.
- Sound or feeling of a grating sensation when the joint is used.
Factors that may increase OA risk include:
- Gender; women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
- Weight; carrying extra body weight puts added stress on weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees.
- Joint injuries, such as those that occur when playing sports or from an accident.
- Certain occupations, which place repetitive stress on a particular joint.
- Other diseases; having diabetes or other inflammatory diseases such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
The best approach to addressing OA is to make every attempt to reduce the underlying cause(s) of inflammation and help support the body’s response to inflammation. For people with weight issues, supplements for weight control will eventually benefit those with OA (primarily hip, back and knee). Supporting a healthy inflammatory response alone is not enough. Perhaps creating formulations that address both weight and OA would be most beneficial.
If someone has OA due to repetitive motion, trauma from an injury/surgery or stress-related pressure on a joint; the underlying issue is most likely two things: connective tissue damage/decline and inflammation.
When discussing connective tissue damage there are a few go-to ingredients; glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin are the most popular to the consumer. I find that these do work well, but need to be combined with other key nutrients that the body would use to protect, and perhaps build, connective tissue. These would be ingredients such as vitamin C, glutamine, bioflavonoids, zinc, manganese, copper and lysine, to name just a few. Just throwing in the most popular three mentioned above may not give a consumer the full benefits and nutritional needs to help form or protect connective tissue.
The second part of the equation is to support a healthy inflammatory response. I have a few favorites for this; cetylated fatty acids (CFA, Celadrin) and curcumin (Meriva) have always done well for those I have suggested them to. Celadrin is my favorite due to its benefits both orally and topically. A study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2002 showed an improvement in knee range of motion and overall function in patients with OA of the knee who took CFA. Topically, Celadrin works fast to provide several hours of relief from discomfort. Meriva takes curcumin to a new level by improving the bioavailability of curcumin by embedding it into the environment of phospholipids. Studies have shown that curcumin reduces joint discomfort and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes.
Finally, if I were going to approach OA with a supplement that would yield the best consumer outcomes, it would involve using ingredients that address the connective tissue maintenance and support a healthy inflammatory response. Taking aim at just one or the other may not achieve the health needs a consumer is seeking.
David Foreman, RPh, is author and radio host of the syndicated show, “The Herbal Pharmacist." He is well-versed on the healing powers of herbs, vitamins and other natural supplements. Foreman is a graduate of the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy and is author of, “4 Pillars of Health: Heart Disease." He is a frequent speaker at some of America’s leading universities, medical groups and hospitals on the subject of natural health and healing. His shift from traditional pharmacist to herbal pharmacist was based on his belief that education is the key to understanding that natural health plays a vital role in mainstream medicine, and he has dedicated his entire career to educating consumers about the benefits and power behind natural herbs and supplements. Follow him on Twitter @herbalrph or Facebook.