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A healthy diet and regular exercise can make a positive difference to reducing your risk of developing osteoarthritis, according to a new study by a team from the University of Surrey.

Osteoarthritis – often called ‘wear and tear arthritis’ – is the most common form of joint disease. It causes joint pain and stiffness as the surfaces within your joints become damaged, meaning the joint no longer moves as smoothly as it should.

At least eight million people in the UK suffer from osteoarthritis and the condition is usually age-related, but the new research suggests it needn’t be an inevitable part of ageing if we take precautions against it. The expert review by the University of Surrey scientists identified a crucial link between metabolism and osteoarthritis, suggesting that basic lifestyle changes can be effective in delaying or even preventing the onset of the condition.

The study examined existing research evidence to assess the role that poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle have on triggering the genetic reprogramming of cells in the body and its joints. It was found that these lifestyle factors impair the cells’ ability to produce energy. This leads to an overproduction of glucose, which in turn leads to an accumulation of lactic acid, causing inflammation in the joint cartilage. It is this inflammation which impedes movement and causes pain – the early symptoms of osteoarthritis.

There is currently no effective treatment for osteoarthritis, with the focus being on treating and alleviating the symptoms rather than offering a cure. But the new study offers hope that it is possible to control or significantly delay the symptoms of osteoarthritis through positive lifestyle changes.

“For too long osteoarthritis has been known as the ‘wear and tear’ disease and it has been assumed that is it part and parcel of getting older,” said Ali Mobasheri, professor of musculoskeletal physiology at the University of Surrey and lead author of the new study.

“However, this is not the case and what we have learnt is that we can control and prevent the onset of this painful condition. It is important never to underestimate the significance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, as not only does it impact on our general wellbeing, but it can alter the metabolic behaviour of our cells, tissues and organs, leading to serious illnesses.”

The study and its encouraging results have been welcomed by leading charity Arthritis Research UK. Its head of research liaison and evaluation, Dr Natalie Carter, commented: “Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease. It affects millions of people in the UK and causes pain, isolation and fatigue.

“We agree that arthritis isn’t a ‘wear and tear condition’, but can be managed by a healthy lifestyle, supported by a good diet and regular exercise. There are hints and tips on our website for people looking for advice on how to achieve this.”

Dr Carter added: “We know that vitamins and minerals are important for maintaining healthy joints and bones. Being overweight can put more strain on the joints, increasing the likelihood of developing arthritis. We are continuing to invest in research that looks at how diet, exercise and a range of other factors can help to prevent and limit the pain caused by osteoarthritis.”

For a range of advice, information and support for people living with arthritis, visit the Arthritis Research UK website by clicking here.

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