Arthritis produces pain, stiffness, reduced range of motion and swelling. When the condition becomes chronic it is called osteoarthritis and it is characterized by degeneration of the joint cartilage and adjacent bones. It may be present as a specific disease or as a part of other generalized disease states.
Although many people associate osteoarthritis with the "natural" wear and tear of the joint cartilage there are several factors which play an important role in preventing and treating these conditions.
Recently investigators have emphasized the need to analyze degenerative mechanisms in the body rather than simply treating symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. Slowly but surely, scientists have a clearer understanding of the cause and the evolution of this disease in all its many different forms. Several studies indite dietary factors as being involved in the development and clinical expression of arthritis.
First and foremost is the discovery of an essential fatty acid imbalance. This is commonly found in horses with a chronic inflammatory process such as arthritis. Too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 fatty acids has been recognized as a major predisposing cause of the degenerative changes observed in arthritic horses. In cases of arthritis with cartilage degradation, there is found high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acid derivatives creating inflammatory mediators. Two of these mediators, PGE2 and LTB4, are considered the prime culprits in instigating the inflammation process in arthritis.
Many clinical studies show incorporation of EPA and DHA (long chain omega-3 fatty acids) into the joint cartilage cell membrane (called chondrocytes) by dietary supplementation results in a dose-dependent reduction in the activity of cartilage damaging enzymes as well as a decreased expression of inflammatory mediators.
Other researchers have investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acid intake on NSAIDs (non-steroids anti-inflammatory drugs) requirements in horses with arthritis. Investigators have concluded there is a significant reduction in NSAID usage in horses under dietary supplementation of omega-3 fatty acid with EPA and DHA compared to horses not under extra fatty acid supplementation. In other words, marine- based EPA/DHA reduces the need for NSAIDs.
In addition, daily increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids with EPA/DHA in arthritic horses results in a dose-dependent improvement of the process itself. Moreover there is a reduction in the horse's self-limiting symptoms. In order to quickly obtain saturation levels it is advisable to double the recommended maintenance dose after the 2-3 week introduction period.
Clearly epidemiological studies in humans indicate increased levels of omega-3 may help to prevent arthritis. This information supports the hypothesis there may be dietary factors involved in the development and clinical expression of arthritis. Furthermore marine-based omega-3 with EPA/DHA seems to reduce the need for non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Additional studies will undoubtedly demonstrate the omega-3's positive influence in preventing and treating arthritic conditions in horses.