Osteoarthritis is inflammation of the joints caused by wear and tear of what is termed the articular surface. This surface is made up of a tissue called cartilage which is touch and smooth and allows for one surface to glide over another, which is just what is needed in a joint. When the cartilage becomes damaged the smooth surface is lost, the joint is stiff, painful, it frequently locks, and won’t always hold the body weight.
Damage by wear and tear happens more in the big weight bearing joints, hips, knees and ankles; it is more likely to happen if the person is overweight because the joint is having to do more work and is, therefore, more liable to wear and tear. The elderly are more affected than any other group, followed by individuals who have done lots of sport, or who have damaged a joint. There are certain genetic conditions that may lead to osteoarthritis occurring at a younger age and even in the elderly there appears to be a genetic trait as it tends to runs in families. Medical treatment is physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, many doctors do these days recognise the benefits of chondroitin and glucosamine, 2 important ingredients of cartilage; though ultimately for many the treatment is joint replacement.
Treatment using Functional Biochemistry is more interested in why some individuals are more prone than others; are there nutritional factors that enable one individual to maintain or repair the joints where another cannot. If this is so, then replacing the nutrients will obviously help to prevent further damage even if it can’t repair the damage already done. The major components of cartilage are: collagen, sugars linked to a protein as in glucosamine and chondroitin, and sulphur which forms the bond between the sugar and the protein. The sugar linked to protein are collectively called glycoproteins. The production of collagen, glucosamine and chondroitin all slow with age, in fact after age 25 we lose more than we can produce, ultimately this loss becomes recognisable as we droop, wrinkle, stiffen and finally experience pain especially in the joints.
Using functional biochemistry it is possible to find out which nutrients can be supplemented to optimise collagen synthesis; or, to decide that replacing the collagen as a supplement in its own right is the better option.
The nutrients that make collagen are three different amino acids (building blocks of protein), glucose, the minerals magnesium, iron, copper and manganese, and activated vitamin B6. To make chondroitin sulphate the body needs several sugars, sulphur, magnesium, manganese, iron, molybdenum, and vitamin C and activated B6. To make glucosamine the body needs several sugars, the minerals magnesium, calcium, and potassium, the activated vitamins B1, B2, B3,B5 and B6. It’s rare that anybody is deficient in all of these but it can be seen why it may be easier to take the ready made glucosamine and or chondroitin. Chondroitin Sulphate which is the chondroitin already mixed with the sulphur, and glucosamine have been used as nutritional supplements for many years. The research as to whether they work is somewhat variable. These 2 substances naturally help with the production of cartilage; however they probably cannot work fast enough to repair the damage, as well as preventing further loss. For this reason I prefer to use collagen.
Collagen is the protein that forms the matrix of the body, the scaffolding into which everything sits. Giving collagen as a supplement provides the body with the major building block it needs to produce cartilage, bypassing the body’s need to make it and quickly catching up with the years of loss. An added advantage is that collagen already naturally contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate. Another benefit of giving collagen is that it doesn’t just go to the joints; it is available to go to anywhere in the body that needs it, hair, skin, nails, bones; in fact everywhere. Not only does this strengthen the body it changes the appearance and in these days where so many people want to maintain their youthful looks as long as possible it does that too. This is because collagen is a specific protein which forms the scaffolding of the body in which all of the unique cells sit. In giving collagen as a supplement it by passes the problem that the body has in making enough as we age. In fact the gradual loss starts as early as 25 years of age from when on we lose approximately 1.5% of our total collagen every year.
Normally all protein taken by mouth is digested into the constituent amino acids; but the collagen capsules I recommend are in a capsule that is resistant to the stomach acid; it is broken down by an alkali instead. This means that it will pass through the stomach intact, dissolved in the small intestine where it is absorbed through the walls into the blood. Normally a whole protein should be too big to pass through the gut wall but the collagen has been specially treated so that it is small enough to pass through. Because the collagen has entered the bloodstream as collagen it is ready to be used wherever it is needed in the body. It will be evenly distributed throughout; to nails, hair, skin, blood vessel wall, heart tissue and for those with any degree of osteoarthritis it will also go to the joints.
Many individual find that diet helps that certain foods do make the arthritis worse. An individual can be allergic or sensitive to any food but there are 3 groups that are more common: gluten a protein found in wheat, rye and barley; dairy, especially to cow’s milk and cow’s milk products; and the deadly nightshade family potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine, all peppers, chilli’s, Gogi Berries. All of the nightshade family contain a chemical called solanine. Solanine is poisonous but usually only if eaten in large amounts such as in deadly nightshade, but green potatoes and potato shoots can also result in solanine poisoning. There are some people who are so sensitive that even the small amounts contained in the other listed foods can cause problems, even in the ungreen potato. It is therefore worth being tested to see if you have an allergy, or food is triggering the arthritis. If potato is found to be a problem then you will also need to avoid all those processed foods that contain potato starch; and would you believe commercial type bread contains potato starch, as do rice cakes. Using Functional biochemistry it is possible to test for any number of foods.
Many find that taking an omega 3 fatty acid in a fish oil is helpful. This is not cod liver oil but an oil taken from the skin. Omega 3 fatty acids help in 2 main ways. They help by switching off inflammation. There are two main groups of omega fatty acids in the body Omega 6 and 3. It is estimated that we evolved with a ratio of 1-1 of these fatty acids but increasingly our consumption of omega 6 has increased, probably now as high as 20-1. Omega 6 encourage the production of a chemical that encourages inflammation, omega 3 blocks this chemical. I do not recommend cod liver oil as it is the liver that removes the toxins from the blood. The fish have not, as mammals have, developed a way of breaking these toxins down so that they can be excreted so that they build up in the liver. It is only recently that fish have had to deal with toxins from sea water, but pollution of our seas is becoming an ever increasing problem. It is for the same reason that many dieticians suggest that we should eat fish no more frequently than twice a month, regardless of their other benefits. If taking an Omega 3 fish oil you should make sure that it is sourced from wild North Atlantic salmon as these will be the least polluted but of course the seas, and the contents, move around.
Functional Biochemistry will determine which, if any foods, are contributing to the arthritis and which supplements are beneficial to take and in what amount is each individual need.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17076983 – Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11071580 – Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18416885 – 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.