The Make Up of Cartilage – Part 2

Proteoglycans

The next category in cartilage is called proteoglycans. That’s a big word. Proteoglycans: proteo stands for protein; glyco is a term used to describe long structural sugars. Imagine a bottle brush, with the stem of the brush being protein to give it strength and the bristles being the structural sugars. Proteoglycans, or little round bottle brush structures are woven around and through collagen fibers, forming a dense netting inside the cartilage. Proteoglycans act like a thirsty sponge attracting water and providing a cushion or shock-absorber for the cartilage. Remember the bristles on the bottle brush? They are really long structural sugars and are called “GAGS”, glyco-amino glycans. The most important and the most abundant ones are called chondroitin sulfates. The chondroitin sulfates are the part of the proteoglycan that attracts water and acts like a sponge.
The body makes chondroitin sulfates very slowly. This is partly due to the poor circulation to the joints, and precisely why proper exercise is so important. The turnover time for the body to make 50% of the glycol-amino glycans in the cartilage is about 1.5 years. Things move very slowly in the life of cartilage.

Chondrocytes

If we were to look at cartilage through a microscope, you would see sprinkled inside the cartilage matrix tiny cells, called chondrocytes. Chondrocytes represent the fourth major category in cartilage. Looking at a picture of cartilage, they almost appear like pepper. Chondrocytes make up 5% of the cartilage. They are the factories that manufacture the new collagen and proteoglycan molecules. These cells also have the responsibility of tearing down the old cartilage as they rebuild the new. To perform this task, they secrete enzymes to break down cartilage. What happens if, during the rebuilding process they do not receive key ingredients? What happens if you are baking a cake, and you realize that you do not have enough eggs? The baking process slows or stops. If you have to wait long enough for the ingredients, you may decide to use alternative ingredients and make an inferior cake, without the eggs. Our analogy may be crude, but you can see how years of borderline deficiencies of key nutrients can result in poor cartilage construction and can produce problems in flexibility and mobility.
Add to slow cartilage production, the continuation of the cartilage “chewing” enzymes and it’s easy to see how degeneration takes place. Our goal is to make sure that the chondrocytes have the nutrients they need to produce healthy cartilage.
Before we look at the nutrients to make healthy cartilage, let’s look at the manner in which osteoarthritis is usually treated. The current treatment approach of traditional medicine is a reduction of pain and stiffness. Analgesics, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are most commonly prescribed. Although NSAIDS have a definite effect in pain reduction, a percentage of patients have severe gastrointestinal problems after prolonged intake. Some NSAIDS, particularly aspirin can actually destroy cartilage and block its repair.
Read:

Understanding Joint Care and Repair
The make up of Cartilage Part 1
The make up of Cartilage Part 2
Protecting and Repairing Cartilage
Hyaluronic Acid for Joint Health
Can Supplementation Help