Most people are familiar with how harmful high cholesterol can be for heart health, but scientists have just discovered another way bad cholesterol can hurt the body. It turns out that high cholesterol can trigger the death of cartilage cells, contributing to the joint disease osteoarthritis.
A group of Chinese and Australian researchers made the discovery while studying mice and rats altered to mimic hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) in humans, usually considered to be 240 mg/dL or higher total blood cholesterol. The researchers fed some of the rodents a high-cholesterol diet and some a normal diet, then used surgery to mimic a knee injury which would trigger osteoarthritis development. When the rodents developed osteoarthritis after their surgery, the researchers discovered the high-cholesterol rats and mice had more severe osteoarthritis than their peers. In addition to degraded cartilage, the high-cholesterol rodents had fewer and poorer proteoglycan proteins within their cartilage, a sign of cartilage damage and poor cartilage function; they had more osteophytes, often called bone spurs, which are projections of bone in a joint, meaning the rodents likely had pain and limited movement; and the structure of their subchondral bone just below the cartilage was altered, which means the joint would have a poorer ability to absorb shock while walking.
Luckily, this cartilage damage seems to be preventable. The researchers gave some of the rodents a statin drug to help lower their cholesterol and exposed them to antioxidants that target mitochondria. Those rats and mice seemed to develop less severe osteoarthritis compared to the rodents who were fed a high-cholesterol diet but not exposed to the statin and antioxodants.
The researchers think they know what is happening when cholesterol seems to increase osteoarthritis: they believe the high cholesterol in the blood triggers oxidative stress on the cartilage cell mitochondria. This causes the cartilage cells to die off, degrading the cartilage, with this cartilage loss ultimately causing the rodents to develop osteoarthritis more severely than their low-cholesterol counterparts.
The news is not good for those already facing potential heart problems from their high cholesterol. However, the study offers some hope. Knowing that high cholesterol can trigger osteoarthritis, doctors may be able to use cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins to reduce the risk of developing the joint condition. The doctors can also use antioxidants to target the area at risk of losing cartilage, helping prevent the oxidative stress that kills the cells.
The researchers are already trying to get the word out to the public, along with dietitians. They stress the importance of healthy eating and keeping cholesterol in check to help prevent the development of osteoarthritis, along with many other health benefits.
An estimated 30.8 million adults in the United States alone may be suffering from osteoarthritis. By the time they reach the age of 85, about half the population will likely develop osteoarthritis, with obesity drastically increasing the risk. Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include pain, swelling, stiffness, and popping sounds during movement, and the disease can limit movement and make walking difficult. Not only is osteoarthritis uncomfortable, it may mean that older patients lose their independence and need more intensive care in the home. This in turn can affect their mental health, limiting their social life and triggering depression.
When someone does develop osteoarthritis, injections of sodium hyaluronate into the synovial fluid can help ease symptoms, providing lubrication and cushioning to the affected joint. This can be a less-invasive option than knee surgery when exercise, weight loss, and pain medication are unable to fully manage osteoarthritis symptoms. You can buy Synvisc and other osteoarthritis injections at Focus-Med.net, along with a wide selection of dermal fillers and other medical products.