Osteoarthritis accounts for 80% of all arthritis cases in the US. It is the leading cause of disability in the UK affecting 8.5 million people.
The exact cause of osteoarthritis is not well known; however, contributing factors to the condition are well known. Age, being overweight and injuries have a direct impact on joints and the surrounding tissues. Metabolic, genetic and developmental factors can also influence joint health. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber for joints. When cartilage breaks down, bones grind together, which causes inflammation, swelling and pain. Any joint may be affected by osteoarthritis with the weight-bearing joints being most often affected.
Historical Evidence of Osteoarthritis
This degenerative joint disease is sometimes thought to be a condition rather than a disease. Arthritis has been found in the skeletons of dinosaurs leading to speculation that it is part of the aging process. The condition in humans has been traced back to 4,500 BC. Arthritis is found in Egyptian mummies and in unearthed skeletons of Native Americans.
Prevalence of Osteoarthritis
The most common form, osteoarthritis, affects 80% of the 42 million sufferers of arthritis in the US. Every year in the US 300,000 knee replacements are performed due to osteoarthritis. It is estimated that by age 65, 80% of the population will have osteoarthritis on X-ray while only 60% of those will have symptoms. Between 1993 and 2006 in the US, osteoarthritis hospitalizations rose from 322,000 to 735,000. Half of all prescriptions written for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs are for osteoarthritis.
Current Research on Osteoarthritis
The supplements, chondroitin and glucosamine, taken individually or in combination, have been studied at the University of Bern, Switzerland, led by Peter Juni (“Popular Supplements to Combat Joint Pain Do Not Work Study Finds”, ScienceDaily, September 17, 2010). Publishing the results in the British Medical Journal, Professor Juni, et al, reviewed 10 clinical trials involving 3,803 patients. The analysis showed no clinical effect of these supplements taken either separately or in combination on perceived joint pain or the narrowing of joint space. Their conclusion is that these supplements do not work, although they pose no harm to patients who can tolerate the gastric distress sometimes caused by the drugs. Their recommendation to healthcare providers is to no longer prescribe chondroitin and glucosamine.
The link between diet and the development of osteoarthritis is being studied at the University of East Anglia. Scientists have found a compound in broccoli which prohibits enzymes from causing joint destruction (“Eating Broccoli Could Guard Against Arthritis”, ScienceDaily, September 15, 2010). Sulforaphane, a compound in cruciferous vegetables, is prevalent in broccoli. It has been determined that eating broccoli puts large amounts of sulforaphane in the bloodstream. It has yet to be determined if this compound actually enters the joints. The research team, led by Professor Ian Clark, will study sulforaphane and diallyl disulphide over a three-year period. Diallyl disulphide, found in garlic in high amounts, also appears to slow the progression of destructive joint disease.
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