Let's talk nutrition. We all know what an impact healthy eating can have on overall quality of life, but what do all these recommended foods actually do for specific parts of our bodies? Specifically, which of these healthful foods is packed with nutrients that are essential for optimal bone and joint health?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common causes of joint pain and the knee is certainly not an exception. Osteoarthritis of the knee causes a roughening and thinning of the
cartilage, or cushioning between
the upper and lower leg bones. Knee cartilage is called the 'meniscus' and
forms a disk shaped cushion protecting the leg bones from rubbing together
during movement. In the beginning stages of OA of the knee, and
in progression of the disease, the meniscus develops cracks and
gradually wears away. Physical symptoms result in pain, and stiffness,
with grinding noises noticed as bone rubs against bone.
One of the nutrients found to reduce degradation of the menisci from OA is Vitamin C. A ten-year Australian study found that out of 300 participants, those who maintained a high level of Vitamin C intake over the course of the study showed a 50% reduction in degredation and thinning of the knee cartilage compared to those who were not regularly intaking the vitamin. While there is no definite answer as to why Vitamin C works to prevent knee OA, researchers speculate that the answer lies in Vitamin C's role in biosynthesis of the collagen fibrils that compose cartilage.
Another important nutrient that plays a role in maintaining knee health is Vitamin D. A similar study to the Australian Vitamin C study was conducted in Boston with the goal of determining the effect of supplemented Vitamin D intake on progression of OA over a period of 8 years. The researchers found those, whose knee x-rays showed signs of early stages of
OA, were not as likely to experience the full-blown progression of the
joint disease eight years later if their dietary intake and blood
levels of vitamin D were higher than the recommended daily amount. These results have been attributed to Vitamin D's positive, hormone-like affects on bone cells and growth, and the researchers postulated that vitamin D may affect the surrounding bone material in joints as
well, thus halting the progression of OA. These results could be especially relevent for individuals who do not obtain Vitamin D from sunlight due to their geographic location, such as in Boston.
To make sure you are getting enough Vitamin C, add foods like broccoli,
strawberries, oranges, papaya, cauliflower, parsley and kale to your
daily diet. Vitamin C supplements are also available at local
pharmacies and can even help protect against illnesses such as the common cold. Excellent sources of vitamin D include salmon while very good sources include shrimp, vitamin-D fortified milk and eggs. You can also get Vitamin D by simply sitting in the sun! However people who have darker skin have a higher concentration of melanin in their skin and must sit in the sun longer to absorb sufficient amounts of the vitamin. If this is the case, or if you live in an area with diminished sunlight, your best bet might be to invest in a Vitamin D supplement.
While there is still much to learn from research about how to best maintain knee health, increasing your intake of these essential vitamins can improve your chances at a long and active life for your knees. OA is a condition that worsens with time; it doesn't just happen in an instant, so take precautions now to save yourself some pain in the future! :)