Joints: warning - fragile!

Joints: warning - fragile!

Our body has almost 400 joints, with a high demand on some of them throughout the day. Performing a "hinge" function between two bones, they are vital for movement. A number of factors influence their deterioration, usually gradual, resulting in permanent damage.

However, joint discomfort with its effect on the quality of life can be remedied. You can limit its occurrence and effect with simple solutions, through lifestyle and healthy eating.

FAQs about the joints

1 • What are joints made of?

A joint is the connection point at the end of 2 bones. They are covered with cartilage, a resilient, very smooth material, "nourished" and lubricated by synovial fluid (just like oil in an engine), a viscous liquid which allows the bones to glide smoothly without constraint and gives the joint an excellent damping capacity.

Cartilage is composed of 70 to 80% water and a mesh of collagen fibres and hyaluronic acid, giving it tone and elasticity. These fibres support the other proteins (glucosamine and chondroitin), providing a sponge effect to soak up water, impregnating the synovial fluid. The chondrocytes are specialist cells which renew cartilage by producing collagen fibres and chondroitin.

2 • Is joint discomfort the same as having rheumatism?

Actually yes, even though this term is wide-ranging and covers both degraded cartilage, called arthritis or degenerative rheumatism (the main subject of our article), and joint destruction through alterations in the immune system causing inflammation (known as inflammatory rheumatism or arthritis). In both cases, it is a gradual process and may go unnoticed (for arthritis).

3 • So for arthritis, is it inflammation?

Yes, here the progressive destruction of cartilage is due to chronic inflammation of the chondrocytes or the cells which manufacture cartilage following injury (repetitive movements, contact sports, excess weight), but also to genetic predisposition. Such inflammation invades the surrounding tissue and stimulates the nerve endings, which become hypersensitive. The inflamed chondrocytes also manufacture enzymes which "digest" the cartilage. The balance is disrupted: destruction overwhelms the formation of cartilage. The same thing happens in the synovial membrane: the lubricant becomes less and less viscous and protective.

4 • Arthritis = ageing: is this correct?

No, arthritis can occur at any age. It has multiple origins: build up of strain injuries, physical overwork, excess weight, genetic, diet. It can take place as a result of major trauma, at any age. However, only 3% of the population under 45 are affected, 65% over 65 and 80% from the age of 80.

5 • And does gender come into it?

In this area, women are not the same as men. Arthritis occurs more frequently in women over 50. The cause, oestrogen. Chondrocytes carry oestrogen receptors. When stimulated, they induce the synthesis of growth factors. After the menopause there is a drop in oestrogen levels, and therefore a reduced synthesis of these growth factors.

6 • "Weather-sensitive" joints: myth or reality?

People frequently talk of resurgent joint discomfort when it rains. It has been "refuted" by the Academy of Medicine, which did not confirm a link between atmospheric pressure variations and the re-emergence of discomfort. It seems that we would be better looking for a link with lack of exercise: in bad weather people don't go out and tend to stay still, which leads to discomfort. So keep moving! On the other hand, it is true that rheumatism is relieved by the heat from a hot water bottle or hair dryer.

Did you know?

Inflammatory rheumatism generally occurs in young adults and may even affect children (arthritis and juvenile ankylosing spondylitis).
Among top-level athletes, the risk of arthritis in the knee or hip is greater than 85%. Most at risk: footballers, handball and hockey players.

Morning "unlocking" takes too long, stiffness? I take care of my joints

By acting on environmental factors

I give up smoking: a possible trigger factor for inflammatory rheumatism.

I avoid being overweight: excess weight "weighs down" on the joints; it multiplies the risk of knee or finger joint arthritis by 3 or 4.

I play sport, but not excessively: sporting exercise helps retain joint suppleness. But too much can be harmful => be sensible about it and vary activities so it is not always the same joints being used. Gentle on the joints: cycling and swimming. More aggressive, especially on hard ground with very little shock absorber effect: running, tennis, squash.

I limit stress: it's well-known - repeated stress increases sensitivity.

In the kitchen, by making use of micronutrition and beneficial plants: a winning trio

I reduce cooking temperatures: at high temperature, "glycated proteins" are formed, substances which trigger an increase in inflammatory molecules, very aggressive on the joints.

I choose a "joint-centric" diet with vegetables and fruit rich in alkaline minerals. An excess of acid from meat, refined sugars, salt... will attack the tissues; sensitive joints may be an indicator of this. I also rely on polyphenols and other molecules with antioxidant properties (I use spices, as all spices chase away oxidative stress and I use lots of colours on the plate), omega 3 from small wild fish or rapeseed and walnut oil. I drink (water, green tea, fruit tea), remember that cartilage is 75% water.

 I make use of micronutrition: with silica and vitamin C, which aids the production of collagen; manganese, which is involved in the normal formation of connective tissue; and nutrients (especially vitamins), which participate in protecting cells against oxidative stress. And also zinc, which supports the acid-alkali balance; vitamin D, which helps maintain bone mass; and omega 3, whose level is too low in most "rheumatic" people.

If necessary, for inflammatory rheumatism I try out "gluten-free and dairy-free": dairy products and food containing gluten can, in susceptible individuals, attack the intestinal mucosa which cannot then fulfil its barrier role, allowing molecules to pass through which activate the immune system, creating inflammation, even in the joints.
Talk to your doctor or therapist.

I use plants that target joint comfort: harpagophytum, an excellent ally of arthritis; blackcurrant leaves, acting both on the elimination of acids (it's a "drainer") and on discomfort; and plants rich in minerals, such as silica: horsetail, bamboo, nettle.