Osteoarthritis: is real food the best medicine?


Millions of people suffer from the pain of osteoarthritis (OA) daily. It does not differentiate in its victims, with it affecting a range of ages, as well as all body shapes; indeed, I can declare a very particular interest as it runs in my family. However, obesity has been increasingly seen as a key risk factor for the development of OA, as it drives an increased incidence of OA in both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing joints, with 66% of all adults in the US diagnosed with OA being either overweight, obese, or obese/type 2 diabetic.

No wonder then that ‘joint overloading’ has been considered a central cause of accelerated OA in obesity, but in a remarkable new study published in JCI insight, clinical and animal findings suggest that the association is more likely linked to obesity-related increases in inflammation caused by shifts in the gut microbiome. In other words, while we know a diet dominated by processed foods can lead to obesity, it is the damage that this diet is doing to our microbiome that is the cause of the rise of OA.

Let food be thy medicine

Yes, it turns out that what we eat is not only important for our general health and in staving off the risks of chronic disease, but this provides a clear example of how eating some foods can directly hurt you, while others can help you. Incredibly, this research also opens up the exciting prospect that through diet plans targeting the microbiome – feeding it the right probiotics and prebiotics – OA sufferers may be able to treat the disease.

Let medicine be thy food

Using mice, the research team found that oligofructose, a nondigestible prebiotic fibre, can restore a lean gut microbial community profile in the context of obesity. Obesity is associated with loss of beneficial Bifidobacteria, while key proinflammatory species gain in abundance. As the researchers then put it, “a downstream systemic inflammatory signature culminates with macrophage migration to the synovium and accelerated knee OA”. To you and me, this means the wrong type of food leads to knee pain. Oligofructose supplementation restored the lean gut microbiome in the obese mice, in part, by supporting key commensal microflora, particularly Bifidobacterium pseudolongum, which is associated with reduced inflammation in the colon, circulation, and knee and protection from OA.

Potential pain relief for millions

The next round of trials will target humans, but if successful the impact will be extraordinary. At present the only accepted clinically accepted treatments for this painful and debilitating condition are palliative. There currently are no treatments that can slow progression of OA and nothing that reverses it. This has the potential to deal directly with the root cause – simply by altering what you eat.

Real food for better health

We are only four months into 2018, yet the scale of new research confirming the health problems associated with eating processed and highly processed foods is quite extraordinary. After ten years of monitoring and reporting research in this area this confirms to me that when it comes to our diet, whether it be for health or general weight management, what we eat is much more important than calories consumed or energy burned. Scientific research continues to support ever more reasons to make eating more real food Just Routine.

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Iris is the founder of No Targets Just Routine. She has researched food since 2009 and believes “Happiness is real food shared with loved ones.”

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