As we age, the natural cushion that surrounds our joints often begins to deteriorate, in part, due to decreasing levels of collagen.
Is there a way to stop that?
Or more importantly, can we increase cartilage in our joints naturally even after it has already deteriorated?
Let's take a look.
Can You Regenerate Joint Cartilage?
What comes to your mind when you hear the word cartilage? For most people, cartilage is just the smooth coating that reduces joint friction by covering the end of bones.
However, that’s not the only reason you have cartilage in your body.
For starters, cartilage is one of the reasons why your bones grow - when hyaline cartilage changes to bone in a process called endochondral ossification.
Classic examples of bones that develop straight from cartilage are your ribs, which are initially soft when you are young and become strong as you age because they transform from cartilage to bone.
Besides acting to reduce friction and form bones, cartilage also acts as shock absorbers to protect bones and joints during daily use.
Unfortunately, cartilage is one of those parts of the body that’s prone to complications, and these complications can manifest with dire consequences, especially when they cause cartilage levels to decrease.
Why Cartilage Levels Decrease in Joints
There are three main reasons why your cartilage levels may decrease.
1. Wear and Tear Due to Joint Conditions
In the human body, the most common disease of the cartilage – which is also the most common form of joint disease – is osteoarthritis.
This condition causes destruction and reduction of cartilage mass in a wear-and-tear fashion.
When cartilage is worn out, the bones that meet at a joint start rubbing against each other because the element that was once reducing friction has now been eliminated.
The pain that results from this process is often excruciating.
Besides this, there are over 100 forms of joint diseases that can cause the amount of cartilage to decrease.
They are collectively known as arthritis and include rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, gout, and more.
2. Direct Trauma to Joints
Some people start having cartilage complications when they’re involved in some sort of activity that exposed their joints to heavy impact.
Classic examples are automobile accidents and/or a bad fall such as in contact sports.
Unlike joint disease where the cartilage is literally “eaten away”, trauma can cause tearing of the cartilage or just a displacement of articular cartilage from its usual location.
3. Immobility or Reduced Activity
Just like the muscles, cartilage should be put into constant use to maintain them in a healthy condition.
In situations such as chronic diseases where people are bedridden, or in paralysis where the individual can’t put the affected joint to use, cartilage begins to reduce in size and degenerate – a process called atrophy.
Nowadays, advancements in medicine and scientific knowledge have made it easier to understand how new cartilage can be produced.
Let’s take a look at how that occurs.
The Process of Producing New Cartilage
The formation of cartilage starts even before a person is born. It starts as a primitive, loose and undifferentiated connective tissue that subsequently undergoes differentiation in a process called chondrogenesis.
The cells involved in cartilage formation are called chondrocytes.
To simplify the growth process of cartilage, there are two mechanisms involved:
1. Interstitial growth
- The chondrocytes undergo cell division and increase in number
- The matrix of the cartilage is synthesized
- The cartilage expands from within
2. Appositional growth
- Premature chondrocytes called chondroblasts differentiate
- The matrix of the cartilage is synthesized
- The girth of the cartilage expands
So, how is understanding this growth process important to you?
Previously, orthopedic specialist hypothesized that articular cartilage cannot regenerate because it has no blood supply.
However, this sentiment has since been revised.
When you recheck the processes outlined above, you can see how easy it is to manipulate the growth of cartilage.
For instance, you can:
Increase cell division of chondrocytes to increase their number
Prevent the destruction of chondrocytes
- Add to the bulk of the matrix to increase the size of the cartilage.
Foods That Help Rebuild Cartilage
Common legumes include beans and peas. These foods work by adding to the bulk of the matrix of your cartilage.
Legumes are high-protein foods that help in the synthesis of collagen in the body, and collagen is crucial in forming cartilage.
Legumes are also rich in amino acids such as lysine, which is involved in the critical processes of cartilage regeneration.
Besides increasing the bulk of the matrix, legumes also double up as anti-inflammatory and may help alleviate inflammatory conditions affecting the cartilage.
It’s not possible to talk about collagen synthesis without mentioning the key role played by vitamin C in this process.
Oranges are one of nature’s best (and widely available) sources of vitamin C. Others include more exotic fruits like acerola cherry and camu camu berry.
When you eat vitamin C-rich foods, you add to your stores in the body, and you can synthesize more collagen as a result.
This collagen then adds to the bulk of your cartilage and helps regenerate cartilage that has worn out.
Especially when it comes to maintaining the integrity of the joints, our cartilage needs “helpers” to help maintain its integrity. That’s where a substance called hyaluronic acid comes in handy, which nourishes cartilage and aids in joint lubrication.
When there’s enough hyaluronic acid available, it is unlikely that your articular cartilage will wear out when subjected to mild shear forces.
So eating foods rich in hyaluronic acid, like brown rice, is an easy dietary way to strengthen cartilage.
Supplements to Increase Cartilage
Another easy way to increase cartilage in joints is to supplement with things like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and s-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e).
Glucosamine is found naturally in the body, though it can also be obtained from shrimp, crab, and lobster. It’s believed that glucosamine forms the building blocks required in the growth and repair of cartilage. It also helps maintain the integrity of normal cartilage.
Studies have also shown that it has some anti-inflammatory effects against osteoarthritis.
The popular benefit of chondroitin sulfate is its ability to improve blood flow to the joints. Improved blood flow nourishes cartilage in the joints and provides necessary nutrients for cartilage growth.
Chondroitin sulfate has also been shown to inhibit the rogue enzyme that can break down cartilage.
SAM-e is a natural compound produced from the amino acid, methionine. It is responsible for energy production in the body but also works to improve joint mobility.
It also happens to be a potent pain reliever, making it useful as a supplement for people with any kind of joint pain.
Herbs to Increase Cartilage
Just as certain foods and supplements can be effective, there are also some potent herbs that can help increase joint cartilage over time.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Black walnut is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acid, which help reduce inflammation. These nuts are also rich in a compound called selenium, which is known to improve the quality of proteins that form cartilage.
Green tea is rich in antioxidants, which help to both prevent and reduce the symptoms of articular damage in joint disease.
Turmeric is mostly used as a spice, but it is also one of the most anti-inflammatory items ever studied.
It contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds called curcumin, which helps manage arthritis pain by decreasing inflammation.
How to Rebuild Knee Cartilage Naturally
As discussed previously, researchers used to believe that articular cartilage (that forms the joints) could not regenerate on its own because it had no blood supply, which of course is the primary pathway of nutrient delivery to tissues.
However, studies have shown that there is some evidence that articular cartilage can be stimulated to grow naturally.
We always recommend a preventive approach to wellness, so here are a few tips to help rebuild your cartilage naturally:
- Eat foods that are rich in nutrients such as vitamin C to help synthesize more collagen in your body.
- Eat brown rice and other sources of hyaluronic acid to ensure your joints are well lubricated and that your joint cartilage is not wearing out.
- Maintain healthy exercise habits to keep your joints in shape and to prevent atrophy of the articular cartilage.
- Make it a habit to include herbal supplements in your diet like these that have beneficial properties for preventing and alleviating joint deterioration.
Studies have also shown that certain traditional plants have the ability to increase the synthesis of collagen, which then boosts the activity of chondrocytes in forming more cartilage. Such plants include Pleurostyia capensis, Pterocarpus angolensis, and Eucomis autumnalis.
We hope this helps you learn how to increase cartilage in your joints naturally so you can avoid the pain and suffering associated with joint deterioration.