Junk Food May Weaken Joints, Cause Osteoarthritis, Says Study

A first-of-its-kind study has found a link between the consumption of high-fat, high-carb diet and an increased risk of osteoarthritis – the most common chronic condition of the joints.

According to the Australian study, saturated fatty acids commonly found in foods such as coconut oil, palm oil, butter and animal fat are the main trigger for the onset of osteoarthritis.

Research suggests that fatty acids, when combined with simple carbohydrates in junk food, weaken cartilage in the joint, leading to painful osteoarthritis.

“We also found changes in the bone under the cartilage on a diet rich in saturated fat,” said Professor Yin Xiao of Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. “Our findings suggest that it’s not wear and tear but diet that has a lot to do with the onset of osteoarthritis.”

In order to determine a potentially adverse impact of diets rich in saturated fats on joints, Xiao and his colleagues studied the effects of a variety of saturated fats, including those in butter, coconut oil, palm oil and animal fat, as well as simple carbohydrates, on the body and its joints.

They found, long term use of animal fat, butter and palm oil was the most damaging to joint cartilage. “Saturated fatty acid deposits in the cartilage change its metabolism and weaken the cartilage, making it more prone to damage. This would, in turn, lead to osteoarthritic pain from the loss of the cushioning effect of cartilage,” Prof. Xiao explained.

“We found that a diet containing simple carbohydrates together with 20 per cent saturated fats produced osteoarthritic-like changes in the knee. We also found changes in the bone under the cartilage on a diet rich in saturated fat.”

Unlike animal-based fats, lauric acid- a saturated fatty acid found in coconut oil- found to have a protective effect on the cartilage.

“Interestingly, when we replaced the meat fat in the diet with lauric acid we found decreased signs of cartilage deterioration and metabolic syndrome so it seems to have a protective effect,” affirmed second study author, PhD student Sunder Sekar.

“Replacement of traditional diets containing coconut-derived lauric acid with palm oil-derived palmitic acid or animal fat-derived stearic acid has the potential to worsen the development of both metabolic syndrome and osteoarthritis,” he said.

Previously, Professor Xiao had established in research that antioxidants and anti-cholesterol medications could diminish the progression of joint injury caused by fatty acids.

The study was funded by the Prince Charles Hospital Research Foundation, and was published in the journal Scientific Reports.