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Broccoli lovers wanted for osteoarthritis trial

Researchers at the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are launching a trial to see whether eating broccoli could help with osteoarthritis.

They will investigate a compound called sulforaphane, which is released when eating cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, and particularly broccoli.

Having previously shown the benefits in mice, the team now hope to recruit people in Norfolk to take part in the first human trial.

They are looking for people over 50 with knee osteoarthritis, who are in pain, and of course – who like broccoli.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease affecting the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees in particular. More than 8.5 million people in the UK have the condition and the cost to the NHS tops £5 billion each year.

Aging and obesity are the most common contributors to the condition and there is no cure other than pain relief or joint replacement.

Prof Ian Clark, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Our previous laboratory study has shown that sulforaphane slows down the destruction of cartilage in joints associated with painful and often debilitating osteoarthritis.

“We found that mice that were fed a diet rich in the compound had significantly less cartilage damage and osteoarthritis than those that were not.

“Now we want to see whether eating broccoli would be as beneficial for humans.” 

The Broccoli In Osteoarthritis (BRIO) trial will investigate whether a broccoli-rich diet improves pain and physical function in osteoarthritis.

Researchers will compare the effects of eating broccoli soup with a soup, which doesn’t contain broccoli, but looks and tastes the same.

Patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis will be randomly assigned to either the broccoli or the control soup and will eat this with a meal on four days per week for three months. The team will measure pain and physical function at the start of the trial, at six weeks and at 12 weeks and assess any changes.

Prof Alex MacGregor, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: "Osteoarthritis is a major cause of disability. It is a huge health burden but a huge financial burden too, which will get worse in an increasingly aging and obese population such as ours.

"Although surgery is very successful, it is not really an answer. Once you have osteoarthritis, being able to slow or stop its progress is really important. Prevention would be preferable and changes to lifestyle, like diet, may be the only way to do that.

"This study is really important because it is about how diet might work in osteoarthritis so you can advise people what they should be eating for joint health.

“Developing new strategies for combating age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis is vital, both to improve the quality of life for sufferers and to reduce the economic burden on society." 

Prof Iain McNamara, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: “People are living longer and wish to be living more active lives in the future. Delaying the need for surgery by decreasing the pain and increasing the lifespan of a patients' native joint before surgery is undertaken is of benefit to the patient and the NHS as a whole. 

“We are delighted to be undertaking this research in the NNUH as part of our portfolio of orthopaedic research and very much hope that it leads onto further exciting developments in the future.”

The BRIO trial is funded by Versus Arthritis and Action Arthritis, and will be carried out in collaboration with the University of Leeds Institute of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Medicine.

Dr Caroline Aylott, head of Research Awards and Translation at Versus Arthritis, said: “Over 8.5 million people in the UK are living with osteoarthritis, many of them in excruciating pain every day. It can steal people’s independence by preventing them from being able to work, care for a family, or even move free from pain.

“Although there are no diets or dietary supplements that will cure arthritis, some research suggests that symptoms can improve by changing your diet. Broccoli is something that is easily available and although more research needs to be done, shows great promise for people with osteoarthritis.”

Anyone interested in taking part should email BRIO.Study@uea.ac.uk or call 01603 591471. For more information visit www.brio.uea.ac.uk.  

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