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Osteoarthritis is on the rise, and it’s affecting people at younger ages. Experts believe this phenomenon is partly a result of the increased incidence of obesity. Every extra pound puts three extra pounds of pressure across each knee—one of the most common sites of osteoarthritis. Research shows that people who are obese and have knee replacement surgery are on average about eight years younger than normal-weight patients, and their pain scores and complication rates are much higher too. The link between pounds and risk of osteoarthritis isn’t limited to the strain that excess weight puts on joints. Fat cells churn out hormones, including leptin, adiponectin and resistin, which are thought to damage joints. The more fat a person carries on her body, the more of these hormones she has circulating. What’s more, osteoarthritis is no longer thought of as just a wear-and-tear disease, but is believed to be exacerbated by inflammation, which can lead to swelling and worsen pain, and free radicals, which can damage cartilage. The good news? Many of these factors can be improved with some simple changes to your diet.
•If you’re overweight, lose weight, advises Patience White, M.D., vice president of public health at the Arthritis Foundation. Studies show that shedding even a few excess pounds can reduce pain and may slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
•Follow the Mediterranean diet. It may help you lose weight, and thanks to its high concentration of fish and nuts, it is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to be anti-inflammatory. Theoretically, omega-3s could help reduce the inflammation in joints. The Mediterranean diet is also rich in antioxidants, which may combat the free radicals that degrade joints, says Cathy Rosenbaum, Pharm.D., a holistic clinical pharmacist in Cincinnati and CEO of RxIntegrative Solutions (www.rxintegrativesolutions.com).
•Eat foods rich in nutrients that may help regenerate collagen and improve the health of the joints. These include zinc, found in chicken, eggs, oysters and beef; vitamins C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries), D (fortified milk, fish liver oils) and E (wheat germ, vegetable oils, nuts); phosphorus (beef, poultry and fish, especially salmon and halibut); and calcium (dairy products, sardines, dark-green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and juice).
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