If you are above 45 years of age, overweight and cannot walk due to knee joint pain, the best way to overcome it is to lose weight. Excess weight puts stress on your knee joints and causes wear and tear. However, as you grow older, this effect could spread even to your hands, wrists, hips, knees, feet, spine and shoulders.
This painful degenerative joint disease is known as Osteoarthritis. In Osteoarthritis, the cartilage (a tissue designed to cushion joints) wears out and breaks down. The underlying bone disintegrates, causing pain and the growth of bony spurs around the edges of joints. The joint may even feel like its grinding.
About 2-3 per cent of people may have Osteoarthritis under the age of 40 years, but almost 40 per cent of people above age 50 are affected. Women are more likely victims. It is difficult to reason as to why the cartilage breaks down, but heavy use of a joint is a contributing factor. Doctors feel it is an unavoidable part of growing older. The body stops producing enough building blocks (proteoglycans and collagen), fast enough to keep the cartilage healthy.
New research has shown that supplements of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphates when taken together can actually halt the spread of the disease. These help normalise the cartilage matrix by stimulating synthesis of new cartilage. They help reduce the pain of Osteoarthritis at the cellular level. Supplements of these are available in the market. But check with your physician before comsuming them.
Losing weight is the next most important step in Osteoarthritis. Every 5 kg of excess weight increases the risk of secondary Osteoarthritis by 30 per cent. Do not skip meals to lose weight. Make gradual changes in your diet so that it becomes a lifestyle. Increase your aerobic activity and eat nutrient-dense foods.
Free radicals produced in the body destroy healthy tissue, including those in joints. Take in sufficient antioxidants to prevent free radical damage. Vitamin supplements of antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, E and selenium are available. You could also consume fruit juices, vegetable juices, salad, soya nuts, almonds, walnuts and most dry fruits.
The Omega–3 fats found in fish, flaxseed, green vegetables, walnuts, soyabean and other pulses helps reduce inflammation and pain in the joints. Gamma — linolenic acid (GLA) found in evening primose oil, borage seed oil and black currant oil also helps reduce pain by preventing blood platelets from sticking together, improving blood flow and reducing inflammation.
Joints damaged by Osteoarthritis don’t get as swollen or inflamed as those hit by Rheumatoid Arthritis, but they are somewhat inflamed. Vitamin E also helps fight inflammation, relieves pain and improves mobility in patients suffering from Osteoarthritis. A typical dose to fight inflammation and pain is 400IU to 600IU. Eating a healthy diet and taking supplements can reduce the pain and prevent further damage.
(Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.)