Over 40 million North Americans presently suffer from some form of arthritis. (These numbers are conservative since many of us, including myself, do not use traditional medicine for the treatment of arthritis and are not counted.) This astonishing number is supposed to increase to over 60 million during the next 20 years!

The cost of traditional treatment of arthritis in 1992 was over $65 billion in the US alone, with most of this being spent on disability payments and lost time at work. Factor in the cost of over 20,000 deaths and two million hospitalizations each and every year for those taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for the treatment of arthritis and you see a terrific problem. The cost of treating the side effects of medications, including corticosteroid drugs (prednisone and cortisone), immune suppressive drugs (methotrexate and cyclosporin) and the new cox-2 inhibitors would double numbers.

Fortunately, nature has given us many safe, natural substances that truly address the causes of these debilitating conditions. There are joint-rebuilding nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, methyl sulfonylmethane (MSM), hydrolyzed cartilage and collagen type II, as well as cetyl myristoleate. Cetyl myristoleate, a cartilage-protecting nutrient and one of the most important nutritional discoveries of the 20th century, could change those staggering statistics.

Anatomy of Arthritis

Three basic joint types are described in most anatomy texts and those most likely to develop arthritis are the freely moving joints. They include the hip, knee, ankle, elbow, wrist, shoulder, fingers and thumb. The basic parts of these joints include the bone, articular cartilage, joint capsule, synovial tissue or synovium and the joint cavity filled with synovial fluid. All of them may be involved in the degenerative inflammatory process.

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. This involves the cartilage. If allowed to continue, the ends of the bones become affected. Recent research has shown that much of the damage to these tissues is caused by our own immune systems. Whenever an injury to a joint occurs, the body answers with an immune response. These immune cells release joint-corroding substances such as protein-digesting (proteolytic) enzymes and free radicals that do further damage to joint tissues.

Articular cartilage is composed of collagen, proteoglycans, water and cartilage cells. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, making up 30 per cent of total proteins and up to 90 per cent of all connective tissues. It provides strength and structure to all tissues. Research has shown that using collagen type II can be beneficial in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. MSM is a wonderful source of sulfur and sulfur is used to create disulfide bonds that connect these proteins together.

Chondroitin sulfate is made up of smaller subunits known as galactosamine and glucuronic acid. Those of you taking glucosamine might be interested in knowing that there are enzymes (epimerases) that convert glucosamine into galactosamine, which is then converted into chondroitin sulfate.

Glucosamine also enhances the incorporation of sulfur into the cartilage. Research has shown that chondroitin sulfate might be difficult to digest and absorb because of the size of the molecule. Perhaps taking larger doses of glucosamine might be more beneficial since it’s much smaller and more bioavailable.

These nutrients have been used for many years with wonderful results, but their effects are limited. Cetyl myristoleate works quite differently than the joint-rebuilding nutrients. It’s comparable to flax seed oil, evening primrose oil and fish oils that help decrease pain and inflammation, but that’s where the similarity ends. Cetyl myristoleate functions in at least four different ways: as a lubricant, a painkiller, an anti-inflammatory and what is most important, an immune system regulator.

There are strong indications that cetyl myristoleate, a fatty acid ester, is incorporated into the lipid layers of cell membranes. Recent research shows that the analog (similar molecule) of cetyl myristoleate, known as myristate, is bound to a protein within the nucleus of the cell and then incorporated into the cell membrane. These myristoylated proteins have diverse biological functions on the cellular level, such as signal transduction (how cells communicate) and cell growth and regulation.

Myristoylated proteins do good cellular work throughout the body, for example in an enzyme that helps digest proteins in the small intestine; in creating calcium-binding proteins and acidic brain proteins. They’re also created by a gene that helps suppress tumour invasion.

There are several theories of how cetyl myristoleate works. One suggests that it targets and regulates the immune system. Myristoleate and myristate might function to alter how cells communicate. And if the method by which immune cells communicate is altered, these fatty acid esters could redirect a misdirected immune response. The result is relief from arthritis.

All cells in the body are programmed to die within a certain range of time. This preprogrammed cell death is called apoptosis and produces a tremendous amount of damage. Another theory is that myristoleate and myristate reprogram immune cells that have lived long beyond their normal life span, reducing the damage and thus helping treat all forms of arthritis.

About the Author

Chuck Cochran is a researcher, educator and lecturer. He has a private practice in California.