Bone and cartilage are the support framework for the body. Depending on the specific structure, they are rich in collagen fibres and also contain large quantities of minerals.
In addition to calcium phosphates, there are important trace elements such as selenium, manganese, iodine, iron, copper and zinc. Arthritis sufferers need a good balanced intake of these important trace elements for joint health.
But how important are these minerals? What is the distribution of trace elements in patients with osteoarthritis? What trace elements may help against arthritis?
Trace elements are deposited in the bone
The bone is the largest mineral depository within the human body. The majority of metals and ions, which are absorbed through food, are deposited in bone or in articular cartilage.
For some of the metals, such as manganese and iron, there seems to be gender differences in the concentrations of the elements in the articular cartilage1. Men tend to have higher levels of iron in hip joint tissue compared with women. Women tend to have more manganese in hip joint tissue compared with men.
Important antagonists of heavy metals
In addition to the desired trace elements, there are often heavy metal contaminants present in cartilage and bone. Heavy metals from the environment such as cadmium, mercury and lead can be deposited in bone and cartilage.
A Polish research team recently confirmed that people with (metal) hip replacements have higher levels of mercury and copper in their bones. In addition, subjects who ate fish and seafood once a month has increased cadmium content in the articular cartilage and bone2.
A lack of trace elements can lead to cartilage destruction AND inflammation
A study investigating the effects of trace elements on the cartilage cells of rats offered the first indication of how important these elements are for healthy bones and cartilage. Animals that lacked either selenium or iodine, or both simultaneously, showed a higher rate of cartilage cell apoptosis (destruction), compared with the control group3.
Human-based research has also established a link between rheumatoid arthritis and low concentrations of trace elements. Pakistani researchers analysed hair, blood and urine, finding lower levels of copper, iron and zinc in rheumatoid arthritis compared with the healthy control group4. It’s possible that the lack of these trace elements promotes rheumatic complaints, or the inflammation itself limits their availability in the body.
How useful are trace element supplements?
There are several studies showing a strong association between arthritis and a lack of trace elements. In particular, selenium, zinc, copper, manganese and boron are found to have significance. However, there are not enough conclusive research that proves the cause and effect.
It’s important to include these trace elements in your diet. If a deficiency triggers arthritis or osteoarthritis, improving their availability may enhance joint health.
If arthritis and inflammation are the cause of the deficiency, it should be corrected. Otherwise it will lead to hair loss, immune system disorders, hormone imbalances and other deficiency-related ailments.
Selenium is a well-known antioxidant and also acts to reduce inflammatory responses. In addition, selenium protects the body from heavy metal accumulation. Selenium is an important element in our musculoskeletal system, found in bone and cartilage tissue.
No studies clearly demonstrate a relationship between selenium intake and a recovery of the joints. However, it was noted in several large studies that selenium deficiency and osteoarthritis are related.
In areas that have a high content of selenium in the soil and in the food, the risk of developing arthritis is approximately 40% lower5. For this reason, this trace element is recommended to osteoarthritis patients as part of natural therapy.
There is also preliminary evidence suggesting that selenium may help treat osteoarthritis. Brazilian researchers have observed that the administration of selenium reduces the severity of inflammation and swelling in arthritic joints of mice and rats. Scientists used a model for human arthritis and fed the animals selenium-enriched yeast as a food supplement6. The next stage is to test the effects of enriched yeast on humans with arthritis.
Zinc concentrations in people with osteoarthritis and arthritis are typically low. There are no clear studies identifying this deficiency as a cause of join inflammation.
It could be that inflamed joints lead to higher consumption of zinc, thus lowering zinc concentration. It is recommended that osteoarthritis and arthritis patients increase zinc intake.
Zinc is essential for immune function and over 200 enzymatic processes. Staying healthy requires adequate availability of this trace element.
Product guide: trace element supplements for your joints
- Brodziak-Dopierała et al., 2013. The content of manganese and iron in hip joint tissue. J Trace Elem Med Biol 27 (3) ,208-12; doi: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2012.12.005
- Lanocha et al., 2013. The effect of environmental factors on concentration of trace elements in hip joint bones of patients after hip replacement surgery. Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine 20 (3), 487-493
- Wang et al., 2009. Effects of selenium and / or iodine deficiency on chondrocyte apoptosis in rats. Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao 31 (5), 584-8
- Afridi et al., 2012. Evaluation of status of zinc, copper, and iron levels in biological samples of normal and rheumatoid arthritis patients in age groups 46-60 and 61-75 years. Clin Lab 58 (7-8), 705-17
- Jordan JM, Fang F, Arab L, et al. Low selenium levels are associated with Increased risk for osteoarthritis of the knee. Arthritis Rheum. 2005, 52: S455
- Vieira et al., 2012. Treatment with Selemax ®, a selenium-enriched yeast, ameliorates experimental arthritis in rats and mice. Br J Nutr 108 (10), 1829-38; doi: 10.1017/S0007114512000013