Scanning For The Early Signs Of Osteoarthritis
However scientists have just announced the development of new medical imaging technology that can spot signs of osteoarthritis even before it starts causing joint damage.
Dr Alexej Jerschow, from New York University, is behind the new diagnosis method, and presented his findings at the recent annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia (i). Dr Jerschow uses an MRI scanner - already commonly used in hospitals - to measure levels of a substance called glycosaminoglycan (GAG). GAG is a polymer that holds a large amount of water and helps make cartilage tough and elastic. Indeed, a low concentration of GAG is linked to the onset of osteoarthritis and other cartilage disorders.
"Our methods have the potential of providing early warning signs for cartilage disorders like osteoarthritis, thus potentially avoiding surgery and physical therapy later on," says Dr Jerschow.
Another benefit of the new technology is that it could help detect how effective new and existing osteoarthritis drugs are at combating the disease. A growing number of studies, however, suggest that a nutritional substance called glucosamine - which is commonly used by osteoarthritis sufferers - is effective at both building new cartilage (ii) and helping to relieve joint pain (iii).
Glucosamine makes up 50 percent of the lubricant found within the synovial fluid - the fluid that surrounds your joints - so it's involved in protecting against joint wear and tear. It helps your body make collagen and maintain healthy connective tissues, all of which is needed for rebuilding and repairing cartilage.
Glucosamine is an active ingredient in supplement called OmegaFlex (www.vegepa.com). OmegaFlex uses a vegetarian form of glucosamine called glucosamine hydrochloride, which is the most bio-available form (ie. the most easily absorbed). Until recently, most glucosamine supplements were derived from shellfish.
OmegaFlex also contains omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, all of which are considered to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
- Omega-3 fatty acids come in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from marine fish oil, which some studies have shown reduces inflammation and the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Virgin evening primrose oil provides GLA (gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid), which experts believe may improve joint pain and tenderness, plus morning stiffness.
- CLA - or conjugated linoleic acid - another omega-6 fatty acid may help relieve pressure on joints by reducing body fat.
- Meanwhile virgin olive oil (or oleic acid), an omega-9 fatty acid, is also thought to have anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties.
OmegaFlex is priced at £16.95 for 60 high-strength capsules, currently available direct from Igennus on 0845 1300 424 or http://www.igennus.com.
(i) For a report of the findings on the American Chemical Society website, see here
(ii) S. Wang, S. Laverty, M. Dumitriu, A. Plaas, M. Grynpas."The effects of glucosamine hydrochloride on subchondral bone changes in an animal model of osteoarthritis". Arthritis & Rheumatism May 2007, Volume 56, Issue 5, Pages 1537-1548
(iii) Braham R, Dawson B, Goodman C. "The effect of glucosamine supplementation on people experiencing regular knee pain." BR J Sports Med 2003; 37:45-49. See also Houpt J, McMillan R, Wein C. "Effect of glucosamine hydrochloride in the treatment of pain of osteoarthritis of the knee." Journal of Rheumatology 1999; 26:2423-2430. See also Richy F, et al. Structural and symptomatic efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin in knee osteoarthritis: a comprehensive meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med 2003; 163:1514-1522.