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Osteoarthritis and Athletes

How Training Injuries Early In Life Can Significantly Hurt You in the Years Ahead (and How to Help Prevent It with the Right Foods and Supplements)

By Rhonda Wilson,
Athletes and exercise enthusiasts push their bodies to the limit everyday. They eat right, maintain a healthy body weight, strengthen their cardiovascular systems, the list goes on. There is no doubt physical fitness comes with numerous benefits to daily life and usually long term health. Still, our bodies are like machines.

You can put good fuel in your engine to boost its function, oil the gears and turn it off at the end of the day, but parts still will inevitably wear out. This is also true with our joints. With continuous long term joint use, especially following previous injuries, osteoarthritis is more likely to develop.

When that happens, say goodbye to your favorite sports and exercises -- WHAT?

You read that right. You see, those training injuries early in life that you thought nothing of at the time can come back to haunt you several years down the road -- if you haven't been taking good care of your body and doing things to try to prevent osteoarthritis later in life. It doesn't happen to everyone. But it does happen to a lot of people.

It's almost like a curse. It is well worth learning about it years earlier in life in an effort to avoid it further on down the road.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a breakdown of the cartilage in one or more joints. The loss of cartilage alone is painless and can occur without symptoms due to the fact that cartilage has no nerves. However, once enough erosion has occurred, friction within the joint irritates the bone where nerves send signals of pain to your brain.

In years past, osteoarthritis has long been known as a general wear and tear condition that occurs with aging and (in previous years) was thought to be non-inflammatory in nature.

Interestingly, this has been found to be false. Research shows that there is low grade ongoing inflammation within joints developing OA before radio graphic images even show changes. This inflammation seems to be attributable to the immune system in the same way it responds to viruses and bacteria.

What's happening in the joint?

The body senses damage from overuse or an actual trauma to the area and responds by trying to repair the damage which causes inflammation in the process. This alone should not cause an ongoing inflammatory response but in those with OA, continuous inflammation seems to occur. Currently, there is no cure or treatment to stop the progression of OA, only pain and inflammation reduction with the use of analgesics {Tylenol}, NSAIDS [ibuprofen, Mobic, Celebrex} and steroid injections.

Even studies attempting to treat OA with strong immune suppressing medications normally used for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis have proven to show little, if any, effect.

That said, with the current knowledge about osteoarthritis, it is key to focus on what we do know. Along with being aware of undue stress on affected joints, and strengthening supportive muscles around the joint or joints; eating to reduce inflammation and boosting vitamins that the body uses to create collagen is essential.

In addition to this, it is prudent to explore supplements that can also provide your body further relief from inflammation. In other words, the more you relieve inflammation, the sooner you slow the progression of osteoarthritis. That's a great reason to start reaching for the right foods and supplements.

Nutrition to Prevent or Reverse Osteoarthritis

Eating to lower inflammation in the body is not much different than just eating healthy. A great example for this purpose is the Mediterranean diet.

Enjoying many different fruits and vegetables and taking in more plant based proteins found in beans and nuts -- and especially eating at least 2 servings of oily fish a week while keeping indulgence in processed foods and saturated fats to a minimum -- is all recommended.

Where to start?

Read that again -- That is your starting point to reversing the progression of osteoarthritis.

It's important to include a wide array of colors when choosing produce as each color group contains their own antioxidants and vitamins you can only obtain by diversifying.

The darker the better for a richer supply of antioxidants such as kale and cherries.

Nuts are an easy and benefit rich snack. Usual suggested serving is only about a handful. Walnuts provide a wonderful source of Omega 3 fatty acid that is known to lower inflammation while almonds are loaded with Vitamin E and monounsaturated fat.

While choosing fish for your weekly menu, its important to focus on the oily kind such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.

Inflammation is only one component -- collagen destruction is another

Inflammation is just one component of osteoarthritis, collagen destruction is another component. Collagen is not only found in our joints. It makes up our skin, bones and other connective tissue.

By the age of 40 our body has begun reducing its collagen production, hence we start to see wrinkles and changes in our outward appearance but these changes also begin to take place inside. We can't stop the natural course of aging but we can use the knowledge of what our body uses to produce collagen and supply it with the appropriate building blocks. So we can work to slow down the aging clock and many people in the modern day have seen results in their lives when embracing better health choices.

There are four main vitamins and minerals necessary for just that: Vitamin C, B-3 (Niacin), Iron and Zinc. Papaya, bell pepper and broccoli top the list for providing Vitamin C while tuna, chicken and turkey lead for B-3 (Niacin). Zinc is found most dense in beef, lamb and sesame seeds and iron is packed into soybeans, lentils and spinach.

Vitamins and Supplements to Prevent or Reverse Osteoarthritis

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has been shown to affect multiple body systems in recent years. The main one of which is helping the body absorb calcium and phosphorous...the minerals needed to build and maintain bone. Vitamin D is absorbed through our non-sunscreened skin from the sun, fish (raw supplies more Vitamin D than cooked) and various milks, breads and cereals.

But this is not always enough. Ideally, it is recommended to have your levels checked at your physician's office as many health practitioners test patients levels and prescribe high dose Vitamin D to load the system and then revert to 2,000 IU daily as maintenance when levels are quite low. That said, supplementing with 2,000 IU (International Units) either way is likely to be beneficial to most people.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin to Prevent or Reverse Osteoarthritis

Chondroitin is a component of cartilage that our body makes on its own. It helps to retain the moisture level within the tissue. The supplement is either harvested from animal cartilage or is manufactured in a lab. It is interesting to note that European doctors prescribe Chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Glucosamine is also found in our bodies naturally, most rich within the synovial fluid.

On the other hand, the supplement is manufactured most commonly from the shells of shellfish. The jury is still out on if these long marketed supplements truly help or not. However, a small study in those with knee osteoarthritis showed a 20% improvement in pain when their baseline pain level was concerned moderate to severe.

Those with mild pain showed no more benefit than those on placebo. Additionally, Mayo Clinic states that those with knee osteoarthritis may find more benefit with glucosamine and chondroitin than those with other affected joints. If you would like to try Glucosamine/Chondroitin and see if you can find improvement in pain and possibly mobility, it can take 3 months for full effect. Safety-wise, either supplement is highly safe and sometimes offers an alternative to the use of NSAIDS and their risks.

MSM to Prevent or Reverse Osteoarthritis

Methylsulfonylmethane is a derivative of sulfur. It is a portion of all the cartilage (joints and other connective tissue) and keratin (hair, skin and nails) in our bodies. Although very small amounts are found in several foods such as fresh broccoli, onions and garlic, the compound is destroyed with cooking. Supplements are therefore manufactured within a lab.

A small European study of 118 people showed that MSM combined with glucosamine had most effective reaction on swelling reduction and lowering of pain. Additionally, a small US study comparing MSM to placebo showed significant pain relief and improvement of function albeit with no change in joint stiffness. Unfortunately, few studies have been performed and the majority on only osteoarthritis of the knee. It is difficult to ascertain MSM's efficacy but its safe to say that trying it as part of your daily routine is safe. Some reports of headache and diarrhea have been noted but not to the degree people discontinued use.

Curcumin to Prevent or Reverse Osteoarthritis

The main health component of the spice Turmeric is Curcumin. It is known to be a powerful antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory agent. Preliminary studies have shown possible improvement in pain as well as inflammation. This included pain alleviation similar to ibuprofen in those patients with osteoarthritis. Although the safety of long-term, high dose curcumin has not been studied, it has been used to ward of inflammatory disease for centuries in India and China.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition affecting millions of people of all walks of life...athlete to the elderly. True management does not come in the form one pill or one exercise. Management is found through lifestyle changes and a little trial and error. Embracing several foods and eliminating sugar, cigarettes (if you smoke), and just about anything that is not found in nature that we consume all work together to reduce the amount of inflammation we otherwise create in our bodies.

That inflammation can cause many issues in our bodies; in fact inflammation has been said to be the root cause of several common diseases.

Going healthy and finding reputable supplements can go a long way in life! References

Role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis

Foods that fight inflammation

Curcumin fact sheet

MSM trials for osteoarthritis

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