One thing is clear about osteoarthritis: it is a big issue. Affecting millions of Australians and costing billions of dollars, it’s not to be dismissed lightly. Yet until recently, the origins of this crippling disease were pretty unclear and arguably incorrect. The latest research now challenges the view it’s just wear and tear and only affecting the old. This may dramatically change how the condition should be treated.
It is estimated nearly two million Australians suffer from osteoarthritis and it skews towards females. Estimates vary on the cost to the community, but it’s in the order of a whopping four billion dollars and rising fast (according to a 2012 study by Deloitte). Joint replacements, most commonly hips and knees, are a big contributor to this expense.
Considering these alarming statistics, groundbreaking research conducted by Stanford University of Medicine in the USA is not to be ignored. They found that, contrary to previous theories, the main underlying cause of osteoarthritis is chronic low-grade inflammation. It can occur way before actual arthritis symptoms start to appear.
“We’re starting to try and recast the way we think about osteoarthritis. That it’s not just this disorder that comes from age or wear and tear, but rather it’s a chronic condition that’s a result of chronic low-grade inflammation that’s causing a consistent and a persistent injury or damage to the joint,” said Mark Genovese M.D. from Stanford Health Care.
In addition, a past belief that exercise made osteoarthritis worse has been debunked. Light exercise, with care taken not to jolt any joints affected, actually relieves the condition.
So what does all this mean for someone with osteoarthritis? Here are four symptom alleviating strategies, based on the latest evidence (and a dose of common sense):
- Keep your weight to a normal level, as excess body mass is linked with making symptoms worse for weight bearing joints. Diet and moderate exercise are key.
- Follow a healthy diet, rich in anti-inflammatory foods and low on ingredients that cause inflammation (such as trans fats and added sugars, present in many processed foods).
- Exercise moderately, but regularly – If you have arthritic joints, it’s better to be active at a lower intensity five times a week than going hard twice.
- Address any deficiencies in your body, which could cause inflammation (ask your doctor for a few tests). Low vitamin D is a common example.
All eyes are now on Stanford and their latest study. Currently they are testing whether anti-inflammatory medicine can stop or even reverse the damage caused by osteoarthritis. If the drugs work, logic suggests anti-inflammatory foods can help too. As I keep saying, there is no harm in eating health foods!
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