Selection, balance, variety, prevention… It is well known that nutrition is one of the pillars of health. “We are what we eat” as the saying goes, but although there is more and more information on how to eat, overweight, a penchant for junk food, excesses and illnesses caused by poor nutrition are present in many people’s lives. And talking about patients with certain specific conditions, health problems can be exacerbated, that is why it is even more essential to talk about nutrition in terms of patients, as different diseases can lead to a significant improvement or worsening of their condition and, thus, their quality of life.
The Osteoarthritis Foundation International (OAFI) was created with the aim of leading the fight against osteoarthritis by promoting education, prevention, treatment and research into everything related to joint health and offering solutions to people suffering from this pathology so that they can feel supported, alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life. Our objectives, of course, include nutrition.
Osteoarthritis Foundation International (OAFI) was created with the aim of leading the fight against osteoarthritis by promoting education, prevention treatment and research, including of course nutrition.
Osteoarthritis is a little-recognised disease that affects more than 500 million people worldwide. Despite its social impact, it is seen as a distant pathology, associated with old age. However, as well as affecting older people, it is increasingly being detected in post-menopausal women, athletes and even young people. This pathology is associated with comorbidity problems such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases among others, but the most disabling symptom that worsens the quality of life of patients with this disease is chronic pain, because directly affects people’s mobility and autonomy, with the psychological toll that this entails.
Chronic pain is, however, something that can result from many other illnesses as well, but in all cases can be considerably improved by a healthy diet. How does chronic pain relate with nutrition? It is as complex as it is interesting; it is two-way and requires a completely individualised approach. As Dr. Laura Isabel Arranz, nutritionist and specialist in diet and pain and an indispensable OAFI partner, explains “chronic pain affects the diet and nutritional status of the sufferer, and diet also affects the intensity and evolution of pain. Thus, knowing the relationships between these factors helps us to understand how an improved diet helps patients to feel better”. Nutrition, seen as another tool in the multidisciplinary treatment of this health problem, contributes to the health and well-being of people suffering from chronic pain (for Spanish speakers: Dieta Lógica).
“Chronic pain can result from many other illnesses as well, but can be considerably improved by a healthy diet. Nutrition, seen as another tool in the multidisciplinary treatment of this health problem, contributes to the health and well-being of people suffering from chronic pain”. -Dr. Laura Arranz, Nutritionist and OAFI partner.
As many studies have shown, in situations of chronic pain there is a high level of oxidative stress and also a state of chronic systemic inflammation that aggravates its evolution and promotes metabolic and endocrine alterations that also worsen the patient’s health situation and pain.
The main nutritional problem in terms of body weight is often excess overall calorie intake, especially in the form of sugars, saturated fats and carbohydrates (from overly refined or processed products). Another clear evidence to date is that obesity is negatively related to chronic pain. The more excess body weight, the higher the pain levels, and pain levels decrease when patients manage to lose at least 10% of their body weight. The prevalence of overweight and obesity compared to the general population is higher in patients with chronic pain, with many factors being involved, such as a decrease in physical activity, changes in diet or inappropriate dietary habits, metabolic alterations…
Another essential aspect to take into account is the possible presence of food intolerances. It is not currently known whether there is really a higher prevalence of these in patients with chronic pain, but what is known is that gastrointestinal disorders are frequent. In this sense, nutritional advice must always take this aspect into account and try to improve digestion capacity and intestinal function and rhythm. Much remains to be known, but the intestinal microbiota is certainly playing a key role in this health problem, so we must ensure that the diet is beneficial in this respect as well.
Obesity is negatively related to chronic pain. Pain levels decrease when patients manage to lose at least 10% of their body weight. Another essential aspect to take into account is the possible presence of food intolerances.
Dr. Antonio Villarino, president of the Spanish Society of Dietetics and Food Sciences, professor and lecturer of the Diploma in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, points out that nutrition has a total influence on health, which is why “some professionals have tried to make people aware of it, because it was not very much taken into account”, stating that sometimes “the more we know, the more aberrations are committed”, as child obesity and cardiovascular problems are very present in society.
“Good nutrition is fundamental for the organism and in all pathologies, nutrition always has an impact, in a very direct way as in cardiovascular pathologies or diabetes or in an indirect way in which it does not have a total impact but which always helps”, the doctor points out.
It is important to remind that the nutritional approach must, like any ideal treatment, be completely individualised, taking into account all the factors that in each patient will be different and related to their experience of the illness and the way they eat. This is the goal of PREVENTOMICS project, an EU-funded project with the aim of improving people’s health and prevent diseases through a personal nutrition plan for nutrition and lifestyle habits. The project, in which OAFI participates together with 18 partners, is based on the study of individual traits such as physical and behavioural characteristics, lifestyle, genotype, physical condition and even preferences. This careful personalisation will allow each patient to have the necessary tools to safely take care of their nutrition, thus improving their own disease.
In OAFI’s radio and television program we have discussed the importance of nutrition with Dr. Arranz in different occasions, you can find here one of the programs titled “Nutrition and pain relief” (for Spanish speakers):
About the author
OAFI is the Osteoarthritis Foundation International, the first and only worldwide foundation exclusively devoted to the people living with osteoarthritis.
Created in October 2016 in Barcelona, the Foundation’s goal is to lead the fight against osteoarthritis by promoting education, prevention, treatment and research on those areas pertaining to joint health and to offer solutions to those suffering from this pathology so that they can feel accompanied, relieve their pain and improve their quality of life.
Alba Gómez Márquez
Head of Communication and Audiovisual Department in Osteoarthritis Foundation International. Alba graduated in Communication and Media by Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, with a specialisation in Audiovisual Content. She is also a Humanities: Art, Literature and Contemporanian Culture master’s degree student.