Knee Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that is increasingly common as we age. Could something simple like an increase in fibre help to relive the symptoms of this painful condition?
What causes the pain
Our knees are flexible, weight-bearing joins that are particularly prone to wear and tear. When we develop osteoarthritis of the knee, what is actually happening is that the cartilage around the knee joint has thinned, or become damaged or worn away completely. In itself, this is not a cause of pain, however the thinning of cartilage triggers other processes which do cause pain:
- Remaining cartilage can become irregular and bumpy rather than the original smooth cartilage. This accelerates the wear and tear process with further cartilage destruction, eventually causing the thigh and shin bones to rub and grind against one another, causing pain.
- To compensate for the lack of cartilage, the bones may produce small bony growths, called osteophytes, which exacerbate the problem of bone friction and cause localised soft tissue irritation.
- Tendons and ligaments can become stretched as the body attempts to compensate for the irregular function of the knee. This leads to pain with further loss of stability and function.
New studies show that people who suffer from knee osteoarthritis may help themselves by upping the amount of fibre they eat in their diet.
Fibre has long been associated with lowering cholesterol levels, cutting the risk of heart disease and decreasing generalised inflammation in the body. But, until now, there was no evidence to suggest it would make any difference in the case of osteoarthritis.
A new study followed a group of 4,700 men and women over a period of four years. These people either had knee osteoarthritis, or were at risk of developing it. Those who ate the most fibre were found to be 30% less likely to develop knee pain or stiffness compared to those who ate the least.
Researchers followed a second group of 1,200 people for a period of nine years and saw even more dramatic results. Those who ate the most fibre had a 60% lower risk of knee pain than those who ate the least.
How it might work
It is believed that eating more fibre helps to manage the pain of knee osteoarthritis in two ways:
- Being overweight is a known risk factor for knee osteoarthritis. Fibre creates a feeling of fullness, which may help us to avoid overeating and putting on weight.
- Fibre is known to decrease generalised inflammation in the body. Studies show that upping your fibre intake reduces a C-reactive protein in the body which is an indicator of inflammation.
- Having a healthy diet is associated with a generalised feeling of well being. This often leads to a lifestyle of more gentle exercise and participating in hobbies, both of which provide distraction from painful knee osteoarthritis.
Upping your fibre intake and simple dietary advice
If you suffer from knee osteoarthritis, there are some simple things you can do to increase your fibre intake:
- Get to know which foods contain most fibre – generally fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods, pulses, beans, seeds, oats, nuts and peas.
- Switch from white bread, cereals, pasta and rice to wholemeal versions.
- Snack on raw vegetables dipped in hummus, unsalted nuts or dried fruits.
- Eat fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines.
- Up your intake of healthy oils like olive oil and flaxseed.
- Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, swiss chard and broccoli.
- Certain spices like turmeric and ginger also help to reduce inflammation
- Avoid refined sugar and deep fried foods.
- Red meat appears to increase inflammation in the body, as do processed food such as ready meals and certain commercially baked goods.
- Foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce symptoms for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. These include fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.