Lifestyle changes to manage osteoarthritis

Wondering how lifestyle changes may help osteoarthritis? Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. The cartilage that protects the end of bones breaks down and leads to pain and swelling.

Our risk of this cartilage breakdown increases as we age and, as the disease progresses, people suffering with osteoarthritis are at risk of worsening pain and increasingly limited mobility.

There are limits on treatment options. Current medications only offer symptomatic relief of the pain, for example, paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. These do not alter the progression of the disease and, while the drugs are generally safe, they inevitably have side-effects associated with them.

Thankfully, there are lifestyle changes we can make to manage osteoarthritis, as registered nutritionist Dr Harriet Holme explains.

The best lifestyle changes to manage osteoarthritis

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess weight is a known risk factor in the development of osteoarthritis. This isn’t just because of the increased load on joints, but also because of the higher levels of inflammation seen in obese individuals, and the associated risk of an abnormal cholesterol profile. For this reason, losing weight (ideally through a combination of diet and exercise) for overweight patients is important. In those people who are overweight, a 5% reduction in weight has been associated with improvement in both joint function and pain.

Get moving with exercise

Maintaining muscle mass while reducing fat percentage can also be helpful for mobility. Exercise not only helps with weight loss, but also leads to metabolic changes and a reduction in inflammation.

Diet and exercise together are more effective than just dietary changes alone. Exercise that combines strengthening aerobic movement and flexibility (such as yoga or Pilates) is most likely to improve pain and function.

Keep your blood sugar stable

Raised blood sugar seen in type-2 diabetes is associated with reduced cartilage function and impaired bone function in the area just below the cartilage. It’s also a risk factor for severe osteoarthritis and a predictor for knee/hip replacement.

Both type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (the combination of diabetes, abnormal cholesterol profile, high blood pressure and obesity) are associated with raised cholesterol.

Know your fats

Osteoarthritis is linked with raised cholesterol. A benefit has been seen when cholesterol is lowered by dietary changes or statin medications. Higher intake of both total and saturated fat was found in a large prospective study in patients with osteoarthritis. It was associated with an increased risk of worsening osteoarthritis too.

In contrast, a higher intake of unsaturated fats was associated with decreased progression when measured via X-rays. Researchers think that this is because the metabolic products of omega-3 fatty acids are less inflammatory than those produced from omega-6 fatty acids. Western diets are associated with an imbalance of omega-3 and 6, such that levels of omega-6 are generally higher. This is associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammation that can accelerate wear and tear on our cartilage.

Eat vitamin K

Vitamin K is an important micronutrient for bone and cartilage health. The term vitamin K actually covers a number of different molecules that you can find in green vegetables, fermented foods, dairy and meat.

We need to eat a range of these items. This ensures that we get all the different elements that make up vitamin K. Studies show that increasing our vitamin K intake may benefit osteoarthritis. As vitamin K is fat soluble, we can increase the bioavailability by combining it with a little fat. For example, this might be by drizzling extra virgin olive oil over broccoli or cabbage.

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