Osteoarthritis is more common in older people though not necessarily a part of ageing. It is a degenerative and often progressive joint disease that causes a great deal of pain and disability for millions of people worldwide.
Though osteoarthritis is an inflammatory disease, as suggested by -itis in the name. It does not bear all the usual hallmarks of inflammation, at least not to a noticeable extent. The typical signs of inflammation are redness, swelling, heat and pain. Osteoarthritis joints can be painful and sometimes swollen, but they are not hot or red like a joint affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Age-related changes in cartilage
Cartilage is the durable but smooth material that covers the articular surfaces of bones and allows the joints to move freely. Various age-related changes mean that the joint cartilage can become thinner. In an arthritic joint the cartilage appears to become roughened and wear away, leaving the underlying bone surfaces exposed. Friction between bone on bone of an arthritic joint can cause a lot of pain and stiffness in the affected joint. So, osteoarthritis can be a significant cause of soreness and disability.
Wear and tear arthritis
There are different types of osteoarthritis one of which is related to wear and tear in the joints. It is also much more likely to occur in a joint that has been affected by injury or overuse. Wear and tear can also explain why the weight-bearing joints such as the hips or knees are commonly affected by arthritis. However, it doesn’t explain all occurrences of osteoarthritis, for example, the small joints of the fingers, and the base of the thumb, which are common sites but perhaps are not subjected to the same workload.
Gut health and osteoarthritis
Researchers are now looking at another potentially age-related change that may influence the development of osteoarthritis. Older people have a significantly different balance of gut microbiota compared to younger people. Scientists now think that the variation in gut bacteria with age, linked to changes in the gastrointestinal tract and changes in the diet may lead to a decline in certain aspects of health. In particular, changes in the gut microbial population may contribute to an increase in the body of a substance called lipopolysaccharide, or LPS for short. LPS is a substance found on the surface of some bacteria. So the gut serves as a reservoir for LPS in the body. LPS can enter the bloodstream from the intestines and can trigger activation of the immune system, causing a low level of inflammation in the body, that can be widespread.
Studies show links between chronic diseases and elevations in LPS in the blood and the corresponding increase in low-grade inflammation. For example, LPS may play a role in type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and obesity. All these chronic conditions have an inflammatory component, as does osteoarthritis. Scientists believe that LPS might also have a role in the development of osteoarthritis.
If LPS is a factor in osteoarthritis, this provides a significant opportunity to modify the risk of developing this disease. Researchers suggest that reducing systemic levels of LPS, by altering the intestinal microbiome may provide a way to prevent or treat osteoarthritis.
Studies show that there are natural ways that we can reduce LPS. These include eating a high-fibre diet, weight loss, and exercise.