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High cholesterol diet may contribute to osteoarthritis

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High cholesterol is known to increase our risk of serious health conditions, including heart attack and stroke. But a new study reveals it may also be linked to osteoarthritis.

Researchers in Australia and China found that high cholesterol levels trigger mitochondrial oxidative stress on cartilage cells, causing them to die, and ultimately leading to the development of osteoarthritis.

The findings, published online in The FASEB Journal, point to a potential new treatment strategy for osteoarthritis before cartilage reaches a stage of complete degradation.

“Our team has already begun working alongside dietitians to try to educate the public about healthy eating and how to keep cholesterol levels at a manageable level that won´t damage joints, in collaboration with orthopaedic surgeons based at Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane, Australia,” said Indira Prasadam, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the study from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.

Prasadam and colleagues used animal models to mimic human hypercholesterolaemia — an excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream.

Mice and rats were fed a high-cholesterol diet or control normal diet, after which they underwent surgery that mimics knee injuries in people and was designed to bring on osteoarthritis. The animals that were fed a high-cholesterol diet showed more severe osteoarthritis development than those in the normal diet group.

However, when the animals were exposed to the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin and mitochondrion-targeted antioxidants, the development of osteoarthritis was markedly decreased in relation to the untreated groups.

“Just when we thought all the angles on osteoarthritis had been uncovered, a new lead like this comes along,” commented Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “The focus of hypercholesterolaemia, whether familial or sporadic, has, of course, always been on arterial disease, but here we have a fascinating new discovery.”