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    Nutritional Supplements and Osteoarthritis

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    What Is Cartilage? continued...

    Proteoglycans:
    This substance is a combination of protein and sugar. Proteoglycans are woven around and through collagen, allowing cartilage to change shape when compressed. Proteoglycans trap water in cartilage, which is redistributed with movement.

    Water:
    Healthy cartilage contains more than 70% water. In addition to functioning as the shock absorber in cartilage, it lubricates and nourishes the cartilage.

    Chondrocytes:
    These cells produce new collagen and proteoglycans in cartilage. Chondrocytes also release enzymes which help break down and dispose of aging collagen and proteoglycans.

    Osteoarthritis Treatments

    The goals of osteoarthritis treatment are to decrease joint pain and stiffness, improve joint mobility and stability, and increase the ability to perform daily activities. Osteoarthritis is usually treated with medications, exercise, applying heat and cold to the painful joint, use of supportive devices such as crutches or canes, and controlling one's weight. Surgery may help relieve osteoarthritis pain when other treatment options have not been effective.

    The type of osteoarthritis treatment prescribed will depend on several factors, including a person's age, activity level, occupation, overall health, medical history, and severity of the condition.

    Yet, traditional treatments for osteoarthritis do not change the progression of the disease. Because the breakdown of cartilage is a significant part of osteoarthritis, researchers have been focusing their efforts on finding agents to prevent this breakdown. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are two nutritional supplements currently being studied to determine their usefulness in treating osteoarthritis.

    What Are Glucosamine Sulfate and Chondroitin Sulfate?

    Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are components of normal cartilage. These nutritional supplements are available in pharmacies and health food stores without a prescription. They are the building blocks for proteoglycans and appear to stimulate chondrocytes to make new collagen and proteoglycans. The supplements are well-tolerated and safe.

    Because these supplements stimulate the production of new cartilage components, it is thought that they may be able to help the body repair cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis. However, much of the research on glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate has been done in vitro (in test tubes outside the body) and in animals. To date, there has not been any convincing proof in humans that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates can help rebuild cartilage or prevent damage to cartilage.

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