Cartilage Loss (Part 2)

In theory osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the simplest diseases. For years we thought that cartilage in our joints just wore away over time. We now know that OA is a complex disease where the processes that reduce cartilage are affected by genetics, past joint trauma and nutrition especially levels of important antioxidants.

Cartilage is very different from other tissue types. It has no nerve or blood supply and it appears as lifeless tissue. Cartilage is actually dynamic tissue. It is a matrix of proteins (collagen and elastin), chondroitin sulphate, water and living cells called chondrocytes.

Research shows that the health of chondrocytes is central to the development of OA. Each chondrocyte looks after a small patch of cartilage repairing damage by secreting new cartilage matrix where needed.  The problem is when chondrocytes are damaged or die. This means that it can no longer maintain cartilage and it starts to degrade.

Eventually the cartilage thins leading to a (painful) bone on bone scenario. On X-rays, osteoarthritis shows as a narrowing of the space between the bones and sometimes new bone growing as spurs in its place.

It is worth noting that in many cases cartilage loss is not because the chondrocyte has died but more that it is ‘sick’ and cannot do its job. One of the wonders of Chondroitin sulphate is that it helps chondrocytes to repair themselves and get to work again.

One of the most annoying and painful arthritic joints are small hand and foot joints. While Nutritional Therapy can really help, these are among the slowest joints to respond. It seems counter-intuitive, but big weight-bearing joints especially knees tend to respond faster.

I have been helping someone with OA in their base thumb joint at the wrist. We started them on a double dose of Bettaflex and a solid dose of Omega 3 Fish Oil.  Within 3 months the pain had reduced, and now after a year, the discomfort is really minor only when under heavy use.

Tip: Epsom salts can help to relieve tissue stress caused by osteoarthritis, especially in small hand and foot bones. I suggest that in the evening dissolve about a dessertspoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) at bath temperature in a basin able to cover your hands /feet by about 100mm and soak for 10 minutes. The magnesium helps to relax stressed tissue while the sulphate helps to strengthen cartilage and other connective tissue.

I use a two pronged approach to supporting cartilage. Firstly we add compounds, especially chondroitin, that can support and repair cartilage. Secondly we add curcumin from turmeric and Omega 3 fish oil to reduce inflammation. Often the inflammation causes more pain and mobility loss than the actual cartilage damage. Thirdly we add the antioxidants that protect chondrocyte cells from further damage.

John Arts (B.Soc.Sci, Dip Tch, Adv.Dip.Nut.Med.) is a nutritional medicine practitioner and founder of Abundant Health. If you have questions or need help you can contact John 0800 423559.  You can email John at

Please note that the health advice given through this column is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any health problem. © John Arts 2020

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