Osteoarthritis is characterized by loss of cartilage in the joint. We used to think it was just mechanical wear and tear, but is “now generallyaccepted to be an active joint disease with a prominent inflammatory component.” This is supported by the fact that, for example, there is significantly higher production of inflammatory prostaglandins from tissue samples obtained from the knees of people suffering from the disease.
If the loss of cartilage is caused by inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet may indeed help. A recent review concluded that using optimal nutrition and exercise as the “first-line” intervention in the management of chronic osteoarthritis could well constitute the best medical practice.
What does “optimal nutrition” look like? The China study “showed the serious health consequences of high consumption of pro-inflammatory foods (meat, dairy, fat, and junk) and low consumption of anti-inflammatory plant foods (whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils).” The unnatural Western diet “contributes to low-grade systemic inflammation, and oxidative tissue stress and irritation, placing the immune system in an overactive state, a common denominator of conditions such as arthritis.”
There are phytonutrients in plants that appear to help decrease the degradation of the joint cartilage, inflammatory activity, cell death and oxidative damage. This is based largely on in vitro studies, suggesting protective benefits of soy, pomegranates, citrus, grapes, green tea, and the curry powder spice turmeric. What role might the yellow pigment curcumin in turmeric play in the treatment of osteoarthritis?
Obesity doesn’t just put more stress on our joints. The fatty tissue inside our joints—like in the kneecap itself—is a source of pro inflammatory chemicals that have been shown to increase cartilage degradation. Curcumin may not only help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals, but may also slow the formation of the fat pad in the first place. But this has all been in test tubes. There have been two clinical studies published to date.