People with the condition often feel severe pain, aching, and stiffness in their joints and might frequently find it difficult to perform daily activities.
There is no cure for it, so doctors often manage a patient's symptoms using pain medication or, in some cases, surgery.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the condition "is already one of the 10 most disabling diseases in developed countries." They estimate that, worldwide, 9.6 percent of men and 18 percent of women over 60 years old have osteoarthritis. Eighty percent of those people have limited movement and 25 percent are unable to perform daily life activities.
In the 2013 WHO Priority Medicines for Europe and the World Update Report, it was estimated that by 2050, a projected 130 million people would have osteoarthritis.
The benefits of nutrition and exercise
Scientists from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom based their new study on information gathered from 68 previous studies. They initially conducted their search from October 2015 to May 2017, seeking related papers from the past 10 years, but they then decided to extend back to 2000.
In the study, the researchers looked at a range of factors that could help people with osteoarthritis to self-manage their condition. They discovered that consuming a gram of fish oil per day could help to reduce pain and have benefits for heart health.
Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acid types: docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. The scientists found that both of these fatty acids reduced inflammation in joints and, as a result, helped to ease pain.
The study also looked into the benefits of diet and exercise for overweight or obese people with osteoarthritis. Their findings were recently published in the journal Rheumatology.
They revealed that weight loss and low-intensity physical activity reduced their pain and decreased cholesterol levels in their blood. The reduction in blood cholesterol is important; researchers found that high levels are often related to osteoarthritis.
Ali Mobasheri, who is a professor of musculoskeletal physiology at the University of Surrey, says, "A combination of good diet and regular exercise are necessary to keep joints healthy; you can't have healthy joints with just one, you need both."
"Lifestyle should also be considered when attempting to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis," he adds. "Patients can't expect miracles with dietary interventions if they are overweight and drink or smoke heavily."
"Evidence shows," Prof. Mobasheri continues, "that smoking and heavy drinking negatively affects body energy metabolism and inflammatory markers in the liver which may promote inflammation and disease in the body."
Vitamin K and osteoarthritis
The researchers also looked at the use of foods containing vitamin K as a possible way to treat and prevent osteoarthritis. They found that eating foods rich in vitamin K, such as kale and spinach, could be beneficial for repairing and preventing damage to bones and cartilage.
Margaret Rayman, who is a professor of nutritional medicine at the University of Surrey, says, "The importance of a good diet and regular exercise should never be underestimated. Not only does it keep us fit and healthy," she continues, "but as we have learned from this study, it can also lessen painful symptoms of osteoarthritis."
"We are what we eat and it is important that we have the right amount of nutrients from our food to ensure that our body systems work as they should," Prof. Rayman concludes.