Applying a stretching mechanism and gallic acid to human cartilage cells could reverse osteoarthritis, according to a study published in Experimental Cell Research.

The team led by Washington State University (WSU) combined stretching, which acts like an exercise for the cell itself, with gallic acid, an antioxidant found in gallnuts, green tea and other plants, to human cartilage cells taken from arthritic knees.

They found that the combination not only decreased arthritis inflammation markers in the cells but improved the production of desired proteins normally found in healthy cartilage.

Haneen Abusharkh, the study’s lead author and a recent WSU Ph.D. graduate said that the findings indicate that a healthy diet and a little exercise appear to be good for arthritis, and although currently in the early stages, the findings suggest that a new procedure could be developed to treat cartilage cells extracted from a patient to grow a supply of cells or a tissue to be re-implanted.

The combination decreased inflammation markers and improved production of desired proteins

For the study, the researchers harvested the cells from donated knees taken out during joint replacement surgery. They cultured the cells in the lab and first tested six antioxidant “nutraceuticals,” (which can neutralize free radicals) including Vitamin C, Vitamin E and curcumin.

The lab results suggested that gallic acid was the most effective antioxidant, so the researchers then applied the gallic acid and added stretching, using a ‘cytostretcher’. They set stretching to 5%, a level that matches the stretch in human knees when walking.

The combination decreased inflammation markers and increased the deposition of collagen and glycosaminoglycans – compounds that give connective tissue its integrity, tensile strength and resistance to compressive forces from body weight on the joints.

As osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal disorder in the world and there is currently no complete cure, the researchers hope that the findings could decrease the number of joint replacements that need to take place.

Bernard Van Wie, WSU professor in the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and the study’s principal investigator and corresponding author said: “We're looking to develop a natural cartilage that works properly from the beginning, rather than replacing the joint.”

Evidence that good diet and exercise “actually work”

The study adds evidence that exercising and eating foods high in antioxidants could help to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis, although the researchers caution that gallic acid should not be seen as a miracle cure, and any course of action should be taken only in consultation with a person’s doctor.

As Dr Abusharkh explains: “This provides some evidence that a good diet and an exercise actually work. Even for people who have mild osteoarthritis, it's really good to exercise. It's very bad for our cartilage tissue to just lay down or sit the whole day; we have to have a little bit of activity.”