A lot of us experience joint stiffness as early as in our 20s. In our 20s and even 30s, it is not something we think much about. However, as we age, as this stiffness becomes more common, it becomes an area of concern. In fact, most of us don’t focus on joint health until our joints become problematic.
But joints, like any other body part, deserve meticulous care and attention even years before they gradually start giving us trouble. Contrary to popular belief, joint pains aren’t caused by the overuse of obesity alone. Many of these issues arise at an early stage and as a result of a multitude of factors that science has only scratched the surface of. So let’s understand what contributes to joint degradation, the role hormones and metabolic health play in joint health and what you can do to keep your joints healthy.
- Hormones such as estrogen play a crucial role in protecting joints and reducing inflammation in the body,
- Inflammation caused due to a spike in cholesterol and glucose causes deterioration of tendons responsible for keeping joints healthy,
- Joint health can be improved through proper movement, maintaining an ideal weight, eating a balanced diet and avoiding smoking.
What is the role of hormones in joint health?
Hormonal imbalances pass distress signals all over the body and vice versa. Typically, during both male and female menopause, multiple changes occur in the body, such as decreased libido, fatigue and weight gain. Menopause is an age-related condition that alters the hormones (mainly estrogen and testosterone) in both genders. This condition’s direct and sometimes indirect impact is seen on the joints.
For instance, excess weight due to hormone fluctuations leads to the early onset of osteoarthritis (degeneration of joint cartilage and bone), putting pressure on the joints and further causing wear and tear in the cartilage present between the joints. Additionally, hormones such as estrogen play a crucial role in protecting joints and reducing inflammation in the body. For menopausal women, the reduction in estrogen increases inflammation and the risk of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, resulting in painful joints.
However, hormonal imbalances can occur even at a younger age, leading to adverse impacts on health in addition to weight gain. As in menopausal women, hormonal imbalances in younger women cause inflammation in the body, increasing the pressure on the joints and amplifying pain. Another crucial determinant of joint deterioration, irrespective of age, is the presence of cortisol (stress hormone) in the bloodstream.
When the body is stressed, it is pushed into a state of danger or perceived danger. This response releases cortisol in the blood, leading to increased inflammation in the body. Again, the inflammation leads to the degeneration of the tissues between joints.
How are metabolic health and your joints connected?
According to the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, metabolic health is described as having ideal blood sugar levels, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference without medication. Research has shown a close link between lipid (LDL, HDL and triglycerides) profile changes and joint health. Elevated levels of metabolic health markers increase joint pain for various reasons. Let’s look at that more closely:
- Cholesterol:Elevated cholesterol levels directly and profoundly impact the tendons. Tendons are fibrous collagen tissues that attach a muscle to a bone. Deposits of cholesterol and uric acid cause weakness in tendons and impair their structure. Oxidation of cholesterol also causes inflammation in the body, weakening tendons further. These weakened tendons lead to a higher risk of tendon injuries. For example, studies have shown a close link between rotator cuff injuries and spiked lipid profile levels.
- Collagen:Collagen is an essential structural protein produced by the body that plays a significant role in building joint cartilage and has anti-inflammatory benefits. Collagen helps rebuild and maintain healthy and flexible tendons in the body. When excess glucose is present in the blood, a compound called AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) is formed. When these compounds interlink with collagen, they cause muscle tightness, reducing the strength of the tendons attached to these muscles by damaging their structure and leading to joint problems.
- Inflammation:We’ve already established the relationship between inflammation and cholesterol. However, low-grade chronic inflammation can also occur as a result of AGEs, weakening the tendons and impairing the healing of torn tendons. The more structurally sound a tendon is, the lower the chances of injury. Studies have also found that insulin is crucial in regulating inflammation response for arthritis.
Additionally, research has shown that osteoarthritis-related inflammation—despite common perception—is also caused in non-weight-bearing joints. Therefore, joint degeneration caused by being overweight has little to do with the direct impact of the weight on the joints and more with the inflammation itself.
How can we improve our joint health?
Joint health is crucial for a long and healthy life. Here are some simple ways you can improve your joint health:
- Movement:The simplest way to improve your joint health is to start moving. This includes improving your range of motion (mobility) and strengthening your muscles, preferably through low-impact workouts, to prevent extra wear and tear of joints. Movement not only helps keep your bones and tendons strong, but it also keeps your metabolic health markers, such as glucose and cholesterol, in check.For instance, movement improves glucose metabolism, reduces cholesterol and helps maintain weight. Additionally, since the cartilage present between joints does not get any blood supply, exercise helps supply nutrient-rich fluids to the cartilage, keeping it healthy.
- Maintaining ideal weight:Maintaining an ideal weight is important for your metabolic health parameters to be in check. This prevents excess strain on the tendons and joints, preventing their early degradation.
- Anti-inflammatory diet:Since stress and a poor lifestyle can lead to excess inflammation in the body, it is important to include anti-inflammatory foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, fish and berries in your diet. A diet like this can help reduce symptoms of arthritis.
- Vitamin D and calcium:To keep bones healthy, it is imperative to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption and can be obtained through exposure to the sun, diet or supplementation, depending on your current levels. Calcium can also be obtained naturally through foods such as broccoli, kale and other green leafy vegetables.
- Avoiding smoking:Smoking increases inflammation in the body, making it tougher to heal from injuries and producing aches and pains in different parts of the body.
- Incorporating omegas in your diets:Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is especially good for your joint health if you have arthritis. Omega-3 is also responsible for reducing inflammation in the body, which helps keep your tendons structurally healthy.
- Posture correction:With a slight change in posture, there can be a dramatic shift in how your joints are impacted. Bad posture usually puts pressure on a joint or muscle that isn’t supposed to be working at that moment. For instance, your hips (glute muscles) should work when you sit down and get up. If your posture is bad, these muscles get dormant, putting more pressure on the knees.
Joints must be cared for and looked after long before they become problematic. Joint health does not only deteriorate because of weight gain or overuse but also due to hormones and metabolic health. Fluctuations in hormones tend to cause inflammation which degrades the joints. Cortisol, a hormone released during stress, also increases inflammation, leading to weaker joints.
Metabolic health plays an imperative role in joint health too. Parameters such as cholesterol and excess glucose increase inflammation in the body, weakening tendons and tendon structures. Collagen depletion caused by excess glucose is another common cause of weakened joints. Joint health can be improved through proper movement, maintaining an ideal weight, eating a nutrient-rich and balanced diet and avoiding smoking.
Disclaimer:The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
- Are Your Joints Hurting? It Could Be a Hormonal Imbalance: Life’s Cycle: Gynecologists
- Role of hormones in cartilage and joint metabolism: understanding an unhealthy metabolic phenotype in osteoarthritis
- The Link Between Menopause and Joint Pain | Proliance Orthopedic
- Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation
- Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016