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Diet & Osteoarthritis

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

For centuries, we humans have considered that our health is influenced by what we eat. Let's face it, if you eat a taco with hot sauce and have diarrhea followed by anal burning the next morning, the food affected your body!

The concept that diet can, in any way, affect osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) is being evaluated by researchers. Keep in mind that this field is just developing and few hard conclusions can be reached. Here is the latest:

  • Obesity increases the risk for developing osteoarthritis. Overweight people might reduce their chances for developing or aggravating their osteoarthritis by losing weight. Furthermore, if a person already has substantial osteoarthritis in a weight-bearing joint, such as a knee or hip, weight reduction can significantly improve their ability to rehabilitate after joint surgery as well as decrease their risk of surgical complications.


  • Vitamin C is important in the development of normal cartilage. A deficiency of vitamin C might lead to the development of weak cartilage. Vitamin C is commonly available in citrus fruits. Supplementation with a vitamin C tablet may be advised if dietary fruits are unavailable.


  • People with low bone mineral density, such as in osteoporosis, may be at increased risk for osteoarthritis. Exercise and adequate calcium intake, as recommended for age and gender, can help to maintain bone density.


  • Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of joint space narrowing and progression of disease in osteoarthritis. Many doctors are recommending vitamin D supplementation of 400 IU daily. This can also help to prevent osteoporosis.


  • For some years now, there have been studies originally conducted in Europe and more recently in the United States that have suggested that the food supplements glucosamine and chondroitin can help to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, including pain and stiffness. Each of these supplements can be taken alone or in combination formulations. Recent research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have shown little if any benefit in comparison to placebo. Keep in mind that glucosamine has also been marketed as a "cartilage rebuilder." This is in part under the assumption that, because glucosamine is a component of normal cartilage, consuming it will assist in the rebuilding of damaged cartilage. There is no strong evidence that glucosamine alone, or in combination with chondroitin, is of value in rebuilding cartilage that has been damaged by osteoarthritis.

Last Editorial Review: 5/6/2008




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