Joints are made up of a number of components, and to understand what joints need, it helps to understand the component parts.
What are joints?
Our joints are the connections at the ends of bones that allow them to move against each other to cause movement. Each joint surface is covered with cartilage and the gap between joints contain the joint cavity.
Collagen is the network that makes up cartilage. It is the ligaments and muscles that determine the direction joints move in and the tendon that connects bone to bone. Some joints are damaged by injury and some are damaged by internal triggers which cause damage to them. Age also plays a factor in joint deterioration. Joint disorders such as bursitis, tendonitis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can all affect joints and cause extreme pain and discomfort.
Nutrition alone isn’t sufficient to maintain healthy joints - appropriate exercise and good posture is also essential.
Firstly, maintaining healthy joints is helped by managing a healthy weight, as each additional kilogram or pound of weight adds pressure to joints and increases the chance of damage or injury. A healthy diet which centres around 2 – 3 substantial meals a day made from fresh homemade food - with each meal containing vegetables or fruit, protein and essential fats and fibre is, in my experience an effective focus to naturally lose the additional pounds. White processed carbohydrates and sugar, combined with high saturated fat, are often contributors to excess weight. So, a focus away from them can help. Shopping in farmers markets or local green grocers can help avoid temptation, and removing biscuits and other snacks from your cupboards can help too.
The specific nutrition for joints relates to the component parts mentioned above. Bones need calcium and Vitamin D to remain strong – dairy products as well as green leafy vegetables are good calcium sources whilst sunshine, eggs and oily fish remain sources of Vitamin D. Since the Scientific Committee on Nutrition’s report released in July 2015, we have been advised to supplement Vitamin D in winter months, in order to maintain adequate levels. This is really important as can prevent muscle pain.
Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are found naturally in oily fish and if taken correctly, can help increase blood flow during exercise. They will also play a role in the anti-inflammatory pathway, with some reports stating that joint stiffness can be eased. Eating oily fish two to three times a week provides a reasonable intake, and some may look to supplement if needed for a specific reason – for example, rheumatoid arthritis.
For any joint disorder involving inflammation, free radicals are produced that can cause damage in the body. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables that contain Vitamin C, E and A can limit this damage whilst also supporting the immune system.
Connective tissue includes the ligament and tendons and are made up of predominantly collagen. Vitamin C helps the body produce collagen, which is rich in mainly yellow and orange fruit and vegetables such as peppers and pineapple. A bone broth, ideally from organically farmed animals is a well digested form of protein which can support connective tissue repair.
Supplements containing MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), glucosamine and chondroitin have been reported to support a healthy bone matrix, and supplements containing turmeric are also widely available and have shown positive results in reducing inflammation.
Supplements do vary in dosages, quality and efficacy however, so a reputable and recommended supplier through a health professional such as a nutritionist is recommended in all cases.