Consumption of milk can be helpful for women to slow the progression of osteoarthritis in the knee. A new American study involving 2148 subjects showed that milk consumption can help to slow the progression of osteoarthritis in women’s knees. While further research will be necessary, the study demonstrates another way in which nutrition is linked to arthritis.
How they studied arthritis
A study published in Arthritis Care and Research on April 7, 2014 showed the benefits of milk consumption in women. It is important to note that the study doesn’t clearly indicate that consumption of milk will prevent osteoarthritis. Instead it shows that, in women, it slows down the development of the disease. The same result didn’t happen in men, and researchers weren’t able to find a clear cause-and-effect relationship between milk and osteoarthritis. It’s possible that because milk is just generally good for knee health, it also helps to slow progression of the disease in the joint.
However, that still leaves questions as to why the benefits of milk only occurred in women. It is thought that, because estrogen plays a role in joint health, and women obviously have much more of the hormone, it may help to explain why the results found in women were not repeated in men. Arthritis of the knee is also especially prevalent in women, so the possibility that there might be a simple way to help with the condition in women is very good news. Obviously it would be preferable if the same beneficial result could be seen in both sexes, but if only one group could benefit, it is good that it was women.
The study included 888 men and 1260 women between the ages of 45 and 79. The average age of participants was in their early sixties. The study was focussed on how intake of dairy products affect development and progression of arthritis. It found a correlation between women consuming quantities of low-fat or fat-free milk and a slowing of the progression of arthritis.
This correlation was not found in men, nor was it found for the consumption of other dairy products. Yogurt had no effect, and consumption of higher quantities of cheese actually had the opposite effect, causing the disease to speed up. It is believed that this is because, though high in calcium, cheese is also high in saturated fat and is therefore just generally unhealthy. It can also lead to weight gain. Excess weight is hard on joints, and since cheese can lead to more of it, it may also lead to faster progression of arthritis in the knee.
Different kinds of arthritis
There are two main types of arthritis—osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. “Osteo” means bone, and osteoarthritis involves bones in the joints. The layer of cartilage that cushions and protects the bones from rubbing on each other gets very thin, resulting in damage and painful movement in the joints affected by the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder. It results from the body attacking the lining of the joints or other tissues and thereby causing chronic and ongoing inflammation. While it generally attacks the joints, it is also capable of causing damage to other tissues. The differences between the two can be summed-up as osteoarthritis being the “wear and tear” arthritis, since it results from gradual damage caused by normal functioning of the joints. It generally affects individuals after the age of fifty. Rheumatoid arthritis is a more unexpected condition, though it still affects people more often later in life, after the age of forty.
Women and arthritis
Estrogen’s role in osteoarthritis can also lead to a kind of “Catch-22” situation for older women. One of the most effective forms of treatment for breast cancer in post-menopausal women is a hormone therapy called aromatase inhibitors. The treatment works effectively to block the conversion of androgen precursors into estrogen, and can therefore lower estrogen levels throughout the body. This has been shown to prevent breast cancer in high-risk individuals, to treat current cases, and to block recurrence of the disease in patients who have previously suffered from it.
However, because the treatment has been so successful in preventing one disease, a major side effect has been largely ignored. As we’ve already mentioned, the treatment lowers estrogen levels. This can cause a great deal of joint pain and lead to progression and further development of osteoarthritis, which is in itself a common medical problem for older women. As a result, attempts to manage one disease may lead to furthering another. Further, even when full-blown arthritis doesn’t develop, the lack of estrogen cause by aromatase inhibitors often causes aches and inflammation in joints. This effect is often severe enough that patients will stop the treatment simply to avoid the discomfort of the side effect. In itself, this is a serious enough challenge in the use of the treatment to warrant further research.
Unfortunately, while the relationship between estrogen levels and arthritis is well documented, the precise cause and effect between hormone levels and the disease are still not understood. This means that it isn’t currently possible to “work around” the effects of lowered estrogen on joints, while still continuing to exploit the aromatase inhibitor therapy for its benefits in cancer treatment.
How to eat right for arthritis
As we already stated, there was already a strong link recognized between nutrition and arthritis, so it’s no surprise that we’ll go through some of the tips you should be following in your eating habits to manage arthritis.
The most significant link between diet and arthritis is body weight. The study found that while low or no-fat milk helped slow the progression of the disease, high-fat cheese had the opposite effect. Your body weight effects your joints in a very straight-forward way, since the amount that weigh is transferred directly to your knees and ankles when you walk. This amount of pressure is enormously increased by even a small amount of excess weight, and conversely, even a small amount of weight loss can have a significant impact on the amount of stress on your leg joints.
The most commonly used measure of weight is the Body Mass Index or BMI score. This is not a perfect tool, but it is simple and accurate most of the time on adults over the age of 18 and with various other exceptions. The scale measures height versus weight, describing an ideal weight in the middle of the scale. Another measure of weight which is even simpler is waist circumference. This is based on the knowledge that weight carried around the middle generally has the most risk to health. Men should have a WC of 40 inches or less, and women 35 inches or less.
Besides weight, there are various elements of a healthy diet that the patient with osteoarthritis should be aware of. It is generally best to get required nutrients from the food you eat, though it is possible to supplement through pills and oil where necessary.
Glucosamine sulphate or chondroitin are supplements that you will need to take separately. These are not available in food, and can be very helpful for the health of cartilage in the joints. Insufficient research has been done for them to be registered as drugs, but they have been licensed as natural health products. Ensure that the brand that you are taking has been licensed by the health authority in your jurisdiction, and also ensure that you are buying glucosamine sulphate, since other there are other types of glucosamine that may not have any significant impact.
It is generally worthwhile to think about how much vitamin C you are getting in your diet. Vitamin C has a role in the production of cartilage, and since osteoarthritis is specifically due to a shortage of cartilage, it is important to watch your vitamin C intake.
Also, it is very common for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to be prescribed for pain. These drugs can deplete the amount of vitamin C in the body. So ensuring that you get enough vitamin C will be essential.
The amount of iron you get is also worth examining. NSAIDs can also deplete the amount your levels of iron. Be cautious about supplementing iron, however, since too much is quite bad for you, and may actually lead to a worsening of your condition. Further, not all supplements can be effectively used by the body against arthritis. This supplement should be taken with a doctor’s advice.
As noted, this study demonstrated a fact which had already been a large part of osteoarthritis treatment—namely a focus on nutrition and diet. What the study clarified was the value of a particular kind of dairy, and what kind of dairy to avoid.
“Drinking Milk May Slow Knee Arthritis in Women.” by Robert Preidt. http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/news/20140407/drinking-milk-may-slow-knee-arthritis-in-women-study-finds.
“Osteoarthritis associated with estrogen deficiency.” by Jorge A Roman-Blas, Santos Castañeda, Raquel Largo1 and Gabriel Herrero-Beaumont. http://arthritis-research.com/content/11/5/241.
“Arthritis and Joint Pain – Inflammation Could Be At Work.” by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP. http://www.womentowomen.com/inflammation/arthritis-and-joint-pain-inflammation-could-be-at-work.
“Role of Body Weight in Osteoarthritis.” by Susan Bartlett, PhD. http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/role-of-body-weight-in-osteoarthritis.