Osteoarthritis is the most common type of painful arthritis. Here’s how to prevent arthritis with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight control.
Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects about 27 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s caused when cartilage, the joint-cushioning tissue between bones, wears away. The result is bones rubbing against each other, causing stiffness and pain.
While long thought to be a disease resulting from the wearing and tearing of joints over time, researchers now think your lifestyle — specifically, what you eat and whether you are sedentary — plays an important role in whether osteoarthritis develops, and that with lifestyle changes you can learn how to prevent arthritis.
Research on osteoarthritis
Ali Mobasheri, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Surrey in the UK identified a crucial association between the development of osteoarthritis and changes in body metabolism fueled by a typical modern diet of refined foods and excess calories, along with too little exercise.
"It is important never to underestimate the significance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, as not only does it impact upon our general wellbeing but can alter the metabolic behavior of our cells, tissues, and organs leading to serious illnesses," said Mobasheri, a professor of musculoskeletal physiology at the University of Surrey.
Metabolic changes related to being overweight and sedentary impact the body on a cellular level, Mobasheri and his team explained in their research paper. These changes raise the risk of metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms that includes extra fat around the middle, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, higher than normal blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels), which is linked to low-level chronic inflammation in the body. The lifestyle-linked metabolic changes also raise abnormal levels of lactic acid, sparking inflammation of joint cartilage and causing pain.
These findings likely explain why obese individuals have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis of the hands and wrists, even though these joints are not weight bearing and not susceptible to the wear and tear of other areas of the body, the researchers pointed out.
"For too long osteoarthritis has been known as the 'wear and tear disease,' and it has been assumed that it is part and parcel of getting older,” Mobasheri said. “However, this is not the case, and what we have learnt is that we can control and prevent the onset of this painful condition.“
How to prevent arthritis
The findings suggest keeping weight under control, increasing physical activity, and eating a healthy diet could help you learn how to prevent arthritis.
Eating plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could be a key way to lower your risk for painful osteoarthritis, according to a Boston University, Tufts University, and Manchester University study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
The researchers investigated data from two long-term studies — the Osteoarthritis Initiative (OAI) and the Framingham Offspring cohort study. For more than a decade, OAI has tracked the health of about 5,000 U.S. men and women with, or at risk of, osteoarthritis, and the Framingham study has followed the health of over 1,200 adult children of the original Framingham Heart Study participants and their partners since 1971.
All the research volunteers kept records of their food intake which the investigators used to search for specific dietary patterns linked to the development of osteoarthritis. And they found one. What stood out was fiber.
Eating a fiber-rich diet was associated with a 30 percent decreased risk of osteoarthritis in the OAI participants and a 61 percent lower risk in the Framington study group. What’s more, eating more fiber, in general — especially a lot of high fiber cereal — was associated with significantly less progression of knee pain in people who had knee osteoarthritis.
The findings held true regardless of other factors, like previous knee surgery or smoking, that could influence the development of osteoarthritis.
March 18, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA