Arthritis - a potential cure and a cause

You know that old wives' tale about cod liver oil being good for your joints? Well, it's been proven true by scientists at Cardiff University, in Wales. It turns out that cod liver oil can slow or reverse the deterioration of joint cartilage that occurs in arthritis, in particular osteoarthritis.

Cartilage is found in your joints - it's a little like gristle - and it acts like a cushion, preventing your bones from grinding against each other. Osteoarthritis is caused by a loss of cartilage. It is a very painful form of arthritis, and the leading cause of joint replacements.

Cod liver oil contains omega-3 fatty acids. This essential nutrient switches off the aggrecan-and collagen-degrading enzymes that break down joint cartilage. Dr. John Harwood, who led the study at Cardiff, reported that cod liver oil effectively slows down the destruction of cartilage, and reduces the inflammation, thereby decreasing pain. They saw results in human osteoarthritic cartilage that had been exposed to cod liver in just 24 hours. A quick caveat - this doesn't mean that cod liver oil will instantly cure osteoarthritis, but it certainly can help. And, if taken daily in your teens and 20s, it could prevent the onset of osteoarthritis.

There is also some very exciting research in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and Harvard Medical School believe they have found the cause of RA, a chronically debilitating and painful form of the disease which affects millions of people around the world. This research shows that RA is an unusual type of immune system response.

Since the 1990s, treatments for RA have become more targeted, reflecting the growing understanding of how the disease works. However, the exact causes of the swelling and inflammation, the hallmarks of the disease, as well as the destruction of the joints themselves had not been determined. It now appears that certain types of carbohydrate, known as glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs for short, can trigger an immune response within the body. GAGs are a major

component in joint cartilage and joint fluid, connective tissue, and skin. When an immune response is triggered, inflammatory cells accumulate in arthritic joints and attach themselves to the GAGs. This accumulation is what causes the pain and inflammation in the affected joint(s).

The next step is to develop drugs that will stop the growth, expansion, or adhesion of immune cells that react to GAGs.

These findings are extremely encouraging. In less than a decade we could see new agents that would reverse or entirely prevent osteoarthritis and RA.

Claire Sowerbutt, in association with the MediResource Clinical Team