Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. According to the CDC, from 2008-2011 an estimated 30.8 million adults suffered from OA in the United States, and by 2040 it is estimated there will be 78 million arthritis sufferers. Sixty-two percent of adults with arthritis are under 65 years of age, 1 in 2 people develop OA by age 85 years, 2 in 3 obese people develop symptomatic knee OA, and 1 in 4 develop painful hip arthritis by age 85 years.
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Initially, the symptoms of OA can be managed with a variety of lifestyle and dietary measures. However, in time OA can cause limited mobility and affect the quality of life of sufferers. Typical patients rely on pharmacological treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesics to help alleviate the pain and discomfort.

However, though helpful, these interventions are only short term and don’t provide any prevention for the progression of OA. Additionally, using these interventions over the long term can have complications and side effects. A recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, reveals for the first time that consuming a Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) may be of benefit to OA sufferers, not just in management but in prevention.

The study randomized 124 participants with a clinical diagnosis of OA to either a MedDiet or control diet for 16 weeks. The researchers sought to measure “perceptual, functional and serum biomarkers in subjects with OA.” Range of motion of the knee, hips and index fingers were tested before the intervention, along with measurements of body mass and blood samples for measuring serum cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (sCOMP) – a marker of cartilage degradation. The MediDiet group followed a typical MedDiet “abundant in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, olive oil and fish.” They also received telephone support and guidance on their diet and lifestyle. The control group received no diet or lifestyle advice.

Thirty out of the fifty participants in the MedDiet group showed high compliance to the dietary intervention. Compared to the control group, the MedDiet group lost an average 1.5 kg, the control group showing no change. The proinflammatory molecule IL-1a decreased in the MedDiet group. This molecule is known to influence the progression of OA, so this is a unique finding. Compared to the control group, the MedDiet group saw larger changes in all range of motion tests, though the outcomes considered most significant were improvements in knee flexion and hip rotation, which may indicate a functional benefit for participants.

Further to this, the authors conclude ”the average reduction in sCOMP in the DIET group (1 U/L) represents a meaningful change,” as this measurement indicates that the MedDiet may be beneficial in preventing the progression of OA through decreasing cartilage degradation.

However, the authors suggest that at this stage, being the only study of its kind, more interventions will be needed for longer durations to evaluate if these benefits are consistent and further enhanced with the length of time.


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