Are you suffering from the chronic joint disease Osteoarthritis (OA)? Do you experience joint pain and stiffness? Are you looking for a non-invasive treatment? Do you worried about the side effects of other OA medications? 

OA is both extremely painful and life altering. It is one of the most common diseases in the (Western) world and affects the everyday life of millions of Americans. Further, longer life expectancy and the rise of obesity will increase the prevalence of OA in the coming decades. 

If you’re suffering from OA, you already know that the primary driver of disease progression is mechanical stress. Furthermore, OA symptoms get worse over time and with increased age. 

Other characteristics of the condition include:

  • Damage and breakdown of articular cartilage (the stuff that coats and lubes your joints),
  • Abnormal bone remodeling,
  • Inflammation in synovial joints, and finally
  • Fibrosis – meaning excessive scar tissue leading to a painful restriction of joint movements. 

While current first-line therapies are mainly palliative in nature, that is deal mainly with pain relief rather than address the cause, and joint replacement surgery is ultimately inevitable, recent studies have shown that there is a supplement that not only helps reduce symptoms most commonly associated with OA but also significantly helps increase joint movement.

In the recent increase in studies on botanical extracts to provide palliative relief one class of compounds – avocado/soy unsaponifiables (ASU) – has emerged as a potential solution to OA symptoms. Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables are the natural vegetable extracts made from avocado and soybean oils, consisting of the leftover fraction (approximately 1%) that cannot be made into soap after saponification. ASU is composed of one third avocado and two thirds soybean unsaponifiables (A1S2U). 

If ASUs are such an effective treatment how is it that we haven’t heard more about them? One of the main reasons they are not well known is that most of the studies on ASUs were conducted in Europe and did not get the attention of US news outlets that typically rely on press releases from US universities. 

As is the case of all pre-clinical research these studies were initially in vitro. This means they took place with microorganisms, cells, or biological molecules outside their normal biological context. Colloquially we refer to them as “test-tube-experiments.” Let’s look at some of the findings in these studies.

Avocado soybean unsaponifiables:

  • stimulate the production of collagen (Boumediene et al);
  • can act as an immune modulator in alleviating the progression of OA (Henrotin et al.);
  • treatment with it prevents osteoblast-induced dysregulation of bone and cartilage repair (Henrotin et al.);
  • decrease inflammatory symptoms most commonly associated with OA (Au et al.);
  • reduce joint pain in a manner similar to traditional COX-2 inhibitors without their known side effects – such as significant increase in heart attacks and strokes (Goudarzi et al.);
  • function at the level of gene transcription to dampen inflammation mediated by monocytes (white blood cells) in OA (Goudarzi et al.).

After these in vitro studies demonstrated an inhibitory effect of ASU on known mediators of disease progression, researchers went on to conduct clinical trials to determine if ASU could be utilized as a therapeutic agent for OA. We’ll being going through those results in an upcoming blog post.