Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis, affecting 15% of the world's population and it's expected to double in the next two decades. It's most prevalent in the elderly population and affects women 3x more than men. OA causes destruction in the cartilage of joint surfaces and it leads to impaired joint biomechanics, swelling, pain, muscle weakness, disability and impaired quality of life. There is no cure for OA but research has been done to determine what can help slow down the progression and manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
NSAIDs (Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen etc.) have been the used to help manage symptoms associated with OA but due to the adverse effects associated with long-term NSAIDs use, more and more people are opting to go the more natural route. But because there are so many different natural treatment options, it can be a little overwhelming. We're going to try to break things down and make it easier for you to decide which approach will be most beneficial to you when it comes to OA management.
Glucosamine and/or Chondroitin Sulfate
Glucosamine is an amino sugar that stimulates your cells to produce a protein that is present in your body's connective tissue. It has been shown to be effective in the management of OA by decreasing symptoms and preventing joint structure changes.
Chondroitin is a major component of the extracellular matrix of the connective tissue of your body. It helps maintain the viscosity in your joints, stimulates cartilage repair and it inhibits the enzymes that lead to the breakdown of cartilage. Like glucosamine sulfate, it also has been shown to prevent joint structure changes.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulfate is usually packaged together as a form of OA management. It has been shown that the combinations of the two are more effective in decreasing OA pains and delaying joint space narrowing.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate is safe to consume. For those that have a shellfish allergy, it's best to consult with your medical doctor to before taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate as glucosamine is part of the structure that makes up the shell of the shellfish.
Hyaluronic acid is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in all-living organisms. It binds to water giving it a consistency similar to Jello. It functions to bind to water and lubricate moveable parts of the body. It plays an important role in the development of cartilage, maintenance of synovial fluid and regeneration of tendons and it acts as joint lubrication and shock absorber. Hyaluronic acid is usually injected into the joint to help with symptoms of OA, but oral ingestion of hyaluronic acid has also been shown to decrease symptoms of pain and stiffness as well as improving activities of daily living and improving mobility.
Also known as methysulfonylmethane is a naturally occurring compound in green plants, fruits and vegetables. It stabilizing the cell membrane and slows down the leakage of inflammatory material when a cell is injured. Therefore, MSM has been shown to decrease inflammation and act as a pain reliever. It has not been shown to help minimize joint space narrowing. However, combination of MSM and glucosamine sulfate has been shown to decrease swelling, joint function, and walking time. It has also shown to improve joint mobility and overall function.
Because these approaches are all natural, it's best to give your body about 3 months to see how it responds to these supplements. If after about three months, you don't notice much difference, you can switch to another supplement or try a combination of different supplements to find what works best for you.
Written by: Dr. Anne Trinh, D.C