Stiffness, Swelling and the Sticky Issue of Sugary Soda

knee osteoarthritisThose of us of a certain age, probably know all about osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” disease in which joint cartilage is lost. Losing cartilage from your knee is similar to having the shock absorbers go on your car.  It leads to pain, stiffness and other symptoms.

According to a large 2007 study, nearly 20% of women and 15% of men over the age of 45 have  symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.

Until now, many experts thought disease progression was inevitable. I’m pretty sure that’s what my knee surgeon thinks. One such clue: he always says “when I see you again” rather than “if I see you again” at the end of every visit.

Bloomberg Moves To Ban Sugary Drinks In NYC Restaurants And Movie TheatersNow, for men at least, this may be about to change. A new study of more than 2,000 with osteoarthritis of the knee showed that disease progression in men is linked to consumption of sugary soda.

Researchers reviewed the records of 2,149 men and women with confirmed osteoarthritis of the knee.

All filled out dietary questionnaires that asked how many soft drinks, not including sugar-free beverages, they drank on average each week.

Every year for four years, the researchers tracked their osteoarthritis progression by measuring the space between the joints. The more cartilage that is lost, the less the space. Body Mass Index (BMI) was also measured.

After taking into account BMI and other risk factors, men who drank five or more soft drinks a week had twice as much narrowing of joint space compared with men who did not drink sugary soda.

man drinking sodaOur main finding is that the more sugary soda men drink, the greater the risk that knee osteoarthritis will get worse,” says researcher Bing Lu, MD, DrPh. Lu is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate biostatistician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

If you’re thinking something along the lines of ‘Duh! Tell me something new. Soda=calories=weight gain= risk factor for osteoarthritis, think again.

Much to the researchers’ surprise, the link between knee osteoarthritis progression and sugary soft drinks could not solely be explained by weight.  When the men were divided into obese and non-obese, the link between sugary drinks and worse knee damage held true only in the non-obese men, suggesting that soft drinks worsen knee osteoarthritis independently of the wear and tear on the joints caused by carrying around excess weight.

So what’s a man who enjoys soda to do?  According to Lu the answer is simple. “just don’t drink it!”

Causes-and-Symptoms-of-OsteoarthritisAnother expert says that’s going too far. “As with everything, enjoy soda in moderation. If you are a man with knee osteoarthritis and are drinking a lot of soda, this might be a reason to curb back,” says American College of Rheumatology spokesman Scott Zashin, MD.

He argues that the study doesn’t prove cause and effect and needs to be repeated before any recommendations to patients can be made, he says.

Furthermore he advises, that in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, every excess pound of weight is 4 extra pounds of dead weight on the knee joint.

And it’s not only Zashin who’s speaking out. The American Beverage Association (ABA), has also taken issue with the findings.

In a statement, the ABA writes: “The authors’ ‘novel  findings’ – as they call them – suggest only a possible association of soft drink consumption with osteoarthritis in knees, which they state cannot be proven without further testing. Consequently, this presentation fails to establish that drinking soft drinks causes any negative health outcomes or even that they are linked to negative health outcomes.”

Lu however is defending his work. He claims that certain ingredients in soda, including phosphoric acid, caffeine, as well as coloring and sweetening agents may affect absorption of calcium and overall bone health.

He even has an explanation as to why the link between soda and disease progression could not be established in women. “It could be due to sex hormones. For example, estrogen has been associated with cartilage degeneration. Further research is needed to understand the pathways.”

Although the jury is still out on this issue, it seems cutting back, or cutting out soda may not be a bad idea.

Could or would you give up your cola?  Let us know!

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