Osteoarthritis: What It Is and How It's Diagnosed
Osteoarthritis refers to a particular degenerative condition affecting the joints of our skeleton. In this condition, the internal lining (articular surface) composed of cartilage becomes damaged and gradually wears away, leading to catastrophic effects on the joints themselves. This disease affects millions of people worldwide (over 5 million in Italy alone), particularly women, and has been prevalent throughout history.
The deterioration of cartilage is attributed to five main factors, listed in order of importance, from most important to least important:
- Heredity, which implies a familial predisposition.
- Age, as joints naturally age over time.
- Lifestyle, whether sedentary or active.
- Diet, which can expose joints to inflammation.
- Wear and tear, resulting from millions of repetitive joint movements.
What Happens to Our Joints: Medical Explanation
The bones comprising the human skeleton are connected by "joints" called articulations, which facilitate movement. The joint surfaces are covered by a thin layer of cartilage, a tissue composed of 75% water along with collagen and other large molecules that provide flexibility and elasticity. Cartilage's role is to enable smooth movement and cushion bone surfaces, aided by synovial fluid—a lubricating oil that prevents excessive friction. Cartilage health is regulated by specialized cells called chondrocytes, which respond by adding or removing tissue in response to mechanical stress, joint instability, growth factors, and the presence of cytokines (specific molecules that influence the growth, differentiation, or death of other cells). Normally, cartilage damage triggers an increase in chondrocyte activity to replace the degenerated part and a decrease in their capacity to remove cartilage. In osteoarthritis, this balance is disrupted, leading to excessive removal of damaged cartilage alongside insufficient construction of new cartilage.
The gradual degradation of cartilage initiates a chemical inflammatory process. Cytokines present in synovial fluid activate chondrocytes, setting off a chain reaction that leads to the release of additional inflammatory cytokines and harmful substances like free radicals. Over time, all these agents contribute to the death of chondrocytes, leading to cartilage destruction and permanent joint damage.
How Osteoarthritis Presents: Recognizing Key Symptoms
Heredity is highly significant in osteoarthritis, particularly among women, as the condition is systematically passed down from one generation to the next. For this reason, individuals with close relatives, especially in the maternal line (mother, grandmother, sister), who suffer from osteoarthritis should pay close attention to the signs and symptoms of this condition. Early intervention and adopting behaviors and lifestyles that can slow its progression are essential. Osteoarthritis symptoms are relatively straightforward to recognize. Here are some of the symptoms that should not be underestimated:
- Joint pain
- Formation of nodules, especially in the fingers of hands and feet
- Morning stiffness
- Progressive inability to perform even simple daily activities
- Difficulty walking or exercising
If one or more of these symptoms manifest, it's crucial not to underestimate them and to seek medical attention. Waiting passively for joint function to worsen can be avoided, as there are several levels of intervention for prevention and treatment, avoiding invasive drugs and therapies.
Diagnosing and Classifying Osteoarthritis
There are numerous classifications of osteoarthritis based on disease severity, often specific to particular joints. Generally, four stages or evolutionary moments of the disease can be identified, reflected both in symptoms and in radiological investigations that assess joint status.
- First Stage:: The disease is just beginning, with pain that doesn't seem linked to exertion or changes in weather. Initial nodules appear, often reddened, in small joints (hands, feet), and larger joints (knees, hips) exhibit a certain degree of stiffness, as if they were rusty and insufficiently lubricated. X-rays during this phase would show joint spaces—the gaps between the two bone interfaces—having narrowed and thinned.
- Second Stage:: Osteoarthritis is progressing. Initial joint difficulties are now more noticeable, particularly in the morning and during exertion. Nodules in the hands involve multiple fingers, and the sensation of painful friction is more constant in load-bearing joints (knees, hips). X-ray images show bone interfaces in partial contact, although not 100%, and axis deformities begin to emerge.
- Third Stage:: Pain becomes constant and results in high functional impairment. In the case of hands, there's a deficit in basic daily activities like unscrewing a cap, opening a jar, or wringing a cloth. For knees and hips, walking becomes difficult and limited to flat surfaces, with stairs causing additional pain. For the spine, certain positions—both in bed and on a chair—become nearly impossible. X-rays show residual fragments of cartilage but also evident joint deformities with gross alterations.
- Fourth Stage:: No more cartilage remains. Often, the underlying bone is heavily damaged as well. Deformities are highly noticeable, joint function is lost, and even simple daily activities become difficult or impossible. Joints are so damaged that surgical intervention is necessary for replacement.
Types of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can affect both large joints like the knee and hip, as well as smaller ones like the finger and toe joints. It takes different names based on the affected area. Naturally, multiple body regions can be affected. Based on the joints, various types of osteoarthritis can be distinguished, including:
- Temporomandibular osteoarthritis
- Cervical and spinal osteoarthritis
- Thumb osteoarthritis (rhizarthrosis) and hand osteoarthritis
- Shoulder osteoarthritis (omarthrosis)
- Hip osteoarthritis (coxarthrosis)
- Knee osteoarthritis (gonarthrosis)
- Toe osteoarthritis (hallux rigidus) and foot osteoarthritis
Read the article Arthosis and arthritis: differences and correlations.
Strategies for Preventing Osteoarthritis
One of the initial steps in combatting osteoarthritis is to consider it as a disease like any other, against which various strategies can be employed. It's not an inevitable fate but a condition that can be managed and, most importantly, prevented.
Remember that there are five main factors contributing to cartilage deterioration: heredity, age, lifestyle, diet, and wear and tear. While the first two factors cannot be altered, focus can be directed towards the remaining three.
Firstly, lifestyle changes can be made by reducing body weight and engaging in daily physical activity. This approach can prevent excessive joint stress due to excess weight and maintain joint flexibility and lubrication through movement.
Lastly, regarding diet: the right diet is one of the most important allies against osteoarthritis, which, like diabetes or celiac disease, can be treated before it even begins with a simple and natural solution—a dietary regimen that involves both addition and subtraction, meaning the consumption of beneficial foods and the avoidance of harmful ones.
Diet for Osteoarthritis: Some Tips
Among the worst enemies for those suffering from osteoarthritis are fatty acids, which reduce the body's ability to produce synovial fluid necessary for joint lubrication. Foods with high saturated fat content should be avoided, such as red meat (especially beef), whole milk, or highly aged cheeses. These foods also contribute to elevated cholesterol levels. Other "no" foods for osteoarthritis include alcoholic beverages, salt, fried foods, and sugary items (including drinks), which raise blood sugar levels and lead to weight gain.
Up to this point, the mentioned foods are easily recognizable as "dangerous" for diet and health. However, there are also harmless and even healthy foods that individuals with osteoarthritis should still avoid. For instance, citrus fruits that are too acidic and vegetables from the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, bell peppers) worsen arthritic symptoms.
For those with osteoarthritis, certain nutrients are crucial: calcium, essential for bone and cartilage formation and maintenance; vitamin C, which improves collagen synthesis; and omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats that the body cannot synthesize and which can reduce inflammation and joint pain. Therefore, prioritize whole grains and cereals rich in fiber and vitamins, legumes providing the right protein and calcium intake, fatty fish (like sardines, anchovies, and mackerel) rich in omega-3s, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, particularly berries rich in vitamin C.
Integratore Omega 3 Artrosi - Algosfree
Natural Support: Supplements for Osteoarthritis
A wide variety of plants, herbs, and roots have been attributed with anti-inflammatory properties and, more specifically, anti-osteoarthritic properties. Some extracts have demonstrated good anti-inflammatory activity, thus adequate concentrations of these preparations—when constituted with quality natural extracts—can provide a valid alternative to conventional drug therapies. It's important for the ingredients to come from reliable sources, be free from contaminants and impurities, and have high concentrations to achieve quick and effective results. Algosfree supplements are natural products that offer valuable support for those suffering from osteoarthritis:
Kit integratori artrosi - Algosfree
- Arthro Wil is a supplement that helps restore joint functionality and counteract inflammatory states. It contains curcumin, known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions; black pepper, which enhances the absorption of antioxidants; and willow, with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-rheumatic properties.
- Arthro Bos is a supplement that helps combat joint pain and stiffness. It includes ginger, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and resin from Boswellia serrata, a plant that counters inflammatory states and rheumatism.
- Arthro Macis a drink based on aloe vera, an anti-inflammatory and detoxifying agent, pure pomegranate juice, a potent antioxidant, and vitamin C, which counters inflammatory states.
To complete the basic kit of products for osteoarthritis sufferers, there's Arthro Cap cream to be applied to inflamed or painful joints three or four times a day. It contains capsaicin (chili pepper) to improve blood circulation, ginger, and New Zealand green-lipped mussel extract with anti-inflammatory properties.
For information about these products, you can visit the website www.algosfree.com