Nourishing your joints and their cartilage

Nourishing your joints and their cartilage

Healthy joints ensure movement and mobility in everyday life. Many factors contribute to their degradation. They can cause irreversible damage. However, joint discomfort is not inevitable. The onset and effects can be limited by providing the right micronutrients, and by following a few healthy lifestyle rules such as a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

Why is cartilage essential?

The joint is a more complex structure than it appears.

Muscles, tendons and ligaments surround the joint, ensuring its mobility. The joint capsule provides stability for the joint and protects the cartilage. Its inner surface is covered by a membrane called the Synovial membrane, since it produces the synovial liquid. Thanks to its viscous composition the bones slide freely and the joint has a high level of shock absorbency.

Within this protective enclosure, the bone heads are not in direct contact with each other, but are in turn protected by the cartilage.

Without cartilage, no fluid movement would be possible as the bones would be in direct contact with each other. 

What is cartilage made of?

Cartilage, which is a living tissue, is characterised by a flexible yet resistant structure made up of several components:

  • 70 to 80% water
  • collagen fibres for resistance and solidity,
  • Hyaluronic acid for elasticity,
  • proteoglycans (glucosamine and chondroitin) which can be compared with water reservoirs for shock absorption.
  • Since the cartilage has no blood vessels, it is “nourished” and lubricated by synovial fluid.

Hyaline, fibrous or elastic cartilage?

Three types of cartilage ensure the preservation of bone structure.

  • Hyaline cartilage covers the bony surfaces of joints (knee, elbow, wrist, etc.). This kind of “pneumatic” is capable of withstanding high pressure. The knee joint cartilage, which supports the whole body, is one of the thickest, measuring 7 mm. 
  • Fibrous cartilage contains dense, solid collagen. It focuses on the “heavyweight, load-bearing” joints: knee meniscus, intervertebral discs, symphysis pubis.
  • Elastic cartilage is soft cartilage located in the auricle, the epiglottis, the rings of the trachea and the bronchi.

Protect your cartilage resources!

Cartilage damage or degradation is the most common form of joint damage.  It leads to loss of mobility and discomfort.µ
There are multiple causes: build up of strain injuries, physical overwork, repetitive movements, excess weight, genetics, diet etc.
At any age, even for top athletes! However, only 3% of the population under 45 are affected, 65% over 65 and 80% from the age of 80.

Chondrocytes, collagen and cartilage regeneration

  • Giving priority to fruit and vegetables, that are rich in base minerals, in your diet, is a good start. The Mediterranean diet provides an excellent basis for rebalancing. Excess acid due to excessive consumption of red meat, refined sugar and white bread, salt, animal milk etc. are aggressive on the tissue and may lead to the “plunder” of the de-acidifying minerals required for good osteo-articular health. Sensitive joints may be an indication of this phenomenon.
  • Polyphenols and other molecules with anti-oxidant properties play an important role in combating the oxidative stress responsible for tissue ageing: spices bring more colour to the plate (all spices combat oxidative stress!). Opt for red fruits, olive oil, and all kinds of brassicas.
  • Omega-3s are fatty acids that originate from small, wild, oily fish such as sardines, herring or mackerel, or from colza and walnut oils. These Omega-3s can give rise to highly active chemical mediators, the prostaglandins, which are involved in regulating the immune system and the inflammatory response. There are also known for helping to maintain joint flexibility.
  • Remember to keep hydrated by drinking (water, green tea, fruit tea), because the cartilage is 75% water. Alcohol is a known dehydrator. Animal milk should be reduced.
  • Cooking methods are also important. High temperature cooking can cause, "glycated proteins", substances which trigger an increase in inflammatory molecules, very aggressive on the joints. These are found in fried, grilled and roast food, so should be consumed in moderation. Cooking at moderate temperatures (steaming for example) preserves the nutritional quality of the food.

Preserving your joints through nutrition

Certain substances taken as supplements have a so-called chondroprotective effect, as they provide nutrients that promote the synthesis of cartilage components, inhibiting its degradation and sometimes even reducing discomfort. Among the best known chondroprotectors:

  • Glucosamine is naturally produced in our body by the chondrocytes. Incorporated within cartilage, it slows down its degradation and stimulates matrix production. Glucosamine sulphate appears to enhance the lubricating action of synovial fluid and to attenuate discomfort in the joints.
  • Like glucosamine, chondroitin is manufactured by the body. The effect of chondroitin sulphate, like that of glucosamine sulphate, is not immediate; it generally appears after taking supplements for 3 months.
  • Naturally present in the joints, Hyaluronic acid is a component of synovial fluid; it increases its viscosity and therefore the lubrication of the joint.
  • An intake of collagen stimulates cartilage tissue regeneration by increasing the synthesis of its components, and reduces joint discomfort.
  • MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane), naturally present in numerous foods (seafood, cocoa solids), is a source of sulphur. Present in high concentration in the joints, sulphur is used in the synthesis of cartilage components. MSM has therefore been used for a long time to treat joint discomfort.
  • Silicon: Although it is one of the main minerals in the human body, it is especially prevalent in conjunctive tissue (skin, cartilage, bone). It is notably involved in the synthesis of collagen within the cartilage.
  • Vitamin C: Without vitamin C our body would be unable to synthesise the collagen of our joints. Powerful anti-oxidant, vitamin C traps free radicals and therefore protects the chondrocytes from the oxidative stress.

Some chondroprotectors (glucosamine, chondroitin etc.) are derived from industrially reared chicken, cow and pork carcasses, shark cartilage, shellfish etc. Be careful where these materials are sourced from!
Favour ingredients of marine origin
from the by-products of fishing (fish skin and bone residues) or of plant origin (e.g. obtained via fermentation).

How to strengthen cartilage and joints naturally? 

Horsetail: Horsetail is especially rich in anti-oxidative flavonoids and minerals, notably silicon, which promote remineralisation and cartilage renewal.

Harpagophytum: also known as “devil's claw”, harpagophytum has been used for centuries by the peoples of Africa to ease for its many benefits to the joints. 

Bamboo: Bamboo stem has an especially high silicon content, a component of bone and cartilage, and therefore enhances the resistance of conjunctive tissue.

Nettle: Naturally contains silicon. Used over the ages for its numerous benefits, nettle is good for the bones and soothes joint discomfort. It also helps to eliminate the toxins able to 'clog up' the joints.

Curcuma: The virtues of curcuma come from its high content of polyphenols, including curcumin, with its anti-oxidant properties.  

Taking care of your joints everyday

I give up smoking: a possible trigger factor for inflammatory rheumatism via the mechanisms of oxidative stress.

I regulate my weight: being overweight “weighs down” on the joints, especially the knee joint. Losing 1 lb equates to relieving 4 lbs off the joints with each step. Accordingly, losing at least 5% of your body weight slows down cartilage degeneration.

I avoid stress: Repetitive stress, is well-known - repetitive stress increases muscular tension and therefore susceptibility to rheumatism.

I take physical exercise, but not to excess: regular physical activity helps to retain flexibility in the joints.
But too much is detrimental! Intensive sport makes excessive demands on the ligaments and joints, with repeated microtrauma and mechanical stress leading to worn cartilage.
Be sensible about it and vary activities so it is not always the same joints being used. Also remember to do your stretching exercises. Gentle on the joints: cycling and swimming. More aggressive, especially on hard ground with very little shock absorber effect: running, tennis, squash.

Talk to your doctor or therapist.