Arthritis is an umbrella term that encompasses scores of different diseases. The term arthritis means joint inflammation, swelling, redness, heat, and pain caused by tissue injury or disease in the joint. Already the nation’s number one cause of disability, arthritis affects an estimated 70 million Americans, or roughly 1 out of every 4.
Currently, 3 of every 5 people with arthritis are younger than 65 years of age. So what’s going on with these downright scary numbers?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 120 different types of arthritis have been identified thus far and the cause of most remains unknown.
While many different factors and triggers surely contribute to the onset of arthritis, what we do know is that circumstances as a child can affect your joints later in life.
According to one study, a single knee injury early in life can put you at five times greater the risk for osteoarthritis in adulthood, with a hip injury more than tripling your risk.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reports…
• Nationwide, over 775,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in hospital emergency departments for sports-related injuries each year, with about 80 percent coming from football, basketball, baseball, and/or soccer.
• Most sports-related injuries in children (about two-thirds) are sprains and strains and only 5 percent of sports injuries involve broken bones. Arthritis is not just an old person’s disease. Many begin experiencing symptoms in their late 30s and early 40s.
The many forms of auto-immune arthritis such as rheumatoid are beyond the scope of this report.
But, osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis, is the leading cause of disability among people 15 years and older, affecting nearly 21 million Americans.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions a joint becomes frayed or worn, or in extreme cases erodes completely causing the joint’s bones to meet and grind together, resulting in pain, stiffness and even the formation of cysts and osteophytes.
The pain range varies from nuisance to almost complete disability where parts of the joint needs to be replaced surgically, if possible. Besides the physical toll, arthritis costs $65 billion annually in medical expenses and lost work hours.
The breakdown of cartilage in arthritis is believed to be an inflammatory process due primarily to the action of matrix enzymes. There probably is a genetic factor as there is in most medical conditions.
Inflammation is a living tissue response to chemical, mechanical, and immunological challenges. It is characterized by high levels of arachidonic acid metabolites, leading to prostaglandin PGE-2 and leukotriene LTB4 – the most prominent metabolites and mediators of inflammation. They play a crucial role in arthritis by causing re-sorption of bone.
A key point is that early diagnosis (and correct treatment) can mean less pain, joint injury, and disability. And getting the correct diagnosis is equally important because different forms of arthritis or injury require different treatments.
If your medical doctor has given you the green light to return to normal activity, he or she probably has recommended or prescribed topical heat or ice or compression and/or analgesics, anti-arthritics and anti-inflammation meds to help relieve pain.
While people with arthritis generally know that joint rest is critical during an acute attack, few know about exercise and deep blood flow. Joint-friendly activities such as walking and stretching can reduce pain. People with joint disorders should exercise regularly as the muscle compartment can further protect from injury. Moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking, cycling, or swimming for 30 minutes a day at least three times per week is recommended.
Regular stretching helps keep joints and muscles flexible, reduces stress, maintains range of motion, and enables you to maintain your activities of daily living.
Strength training builds muscle to support joint and connective tissue, and helps prevent injuries.
Aerobics such as walking and cycling helps improve heart and lung function, and very importantly, helps also to control weight which helps joints.
MAINTAIN HEALTHY WEIGHT
Extra pounds mean extra stress to joints, especially hips and knees, which can contribute to as well as aggravate arthritis and joint irritation. Following good exercise guidelines combined with sound nutrition can help you stay at or near your ideal bodyweight.
Diets rich in anti-oxidants, lean proteins, essential fatty acids, fruits, and vegetables is a surefire way to stay not only lean, but in good general health.
Some researchers are exploring the role diet may play in joint problems. There’s some connection between food, nutritional supplements (vitamins, essential minerals, and essential fatty acids), and certain forms of arthritis and related conditions.
Certain foods, especially fats, can enhance or harm regulation of hormonal substances called eicosanoids… important to pain patients, because they help to control inflammation and pain, especially in the joints.
Certain foods may cause allergic reactions in some individuals, worsening their pain.
In fact, some forms of rheumatoid arthritis may be what medical researchers call “allergic arthritis.”
We all react individually to foods, so it’s virtually impossible to definitively say which foods are “good” or “bad.” Milk and other dairy products commonly cause problems for those experiencing pain. Excessive fat seems to increase the levels of inflammatory substances in the body.
Meat is also filled with substances that can trigger allergies and bog down the body with damaging free radicals. Chemicals given to animals bred specifically for consumption tend to accumulate in fatty tissue. Bacon, hot dogs, and cured lunchmeats have preservatives and other chemicals that can be problematic.
So, switching to a highly nutritious, low saturated fat, lean-protein diet early-on can help many individuals with joint problems. And it may help reduce the need for certain medications as well. In general, those with joint concerns should:
• Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
• Limit your consumption of manmade, processed products and avoid food additives, which are found mostly in packaged foods.
• Avoid saturated fat (found in animal products) and trans fat (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils). Excessive consumption of these fats has been associated with heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases.
• Drink plenty of water, 6 to 10, 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
• Use antioxidants, marine oils and essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body and forms our skeleton, 99% of calcium is skeletal and teeth and 1% is in our blood and body fluids. As well as combining with phosphorus, Vitamin D, and other elements to strengthen our bones and teeth, calcium regulates muscle function, including our heartbeat, it helps the nervous system, assists in normal clotting of blood, regulates hormone secretions like insulin and activates numerous enzymes. As we age we lose calcium from our skeleton, (but women lose about twice as much as men) and suffer more. Osteoporosis is the condition where there has been an exaggeration in the normal loss of bone mass, leading to disabilities resulting from the weakening of the body’s supporting structure.
Recommendation: 1,000 mgs per day and calcium supplements should be taken with food.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (EFAS)
EFAs are found abundantly in various plants such as borage, evening primrose, and flax.
They provide two essential fatty acids known as omega-3 and 6. EFAs are essential to human health but cannot be made in the body and must be obtained from food. EFAs are needed for normal brain function, growth and development, bone health, stimulation of skin and hair growth, regulation of metabolism, and maintenance of reproductive processes. Essential fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Recommendation: While there is currently no determined ideal amount of EFAs, consume a variety of sources each day to ensure a good balance of omega-3 and 6.
Cold-water fish oil (salmon) provides two unique fatty acids – DHA and EPA. In recent studies, dietary omega-3 oils had a suppressive effect on the production of cytokines, which stimulate the production of the enzyme collagenase and pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Fish oils can significantly reduce pain and morning stiffness.
Recommendation: The effective dose of fish oil is approximately three to six grams a day. Higher dosages do not give better results and there are indications that the combination of EPA and DHA, as it is found in fish oil, has a synergistic effect.2
Glucosamine sulfate is probably the best known naturally occurring aid for some joint arthritis. It’s synthesized in your body in the chondrocytes. In arthritis this synthesis is defective or insufficient, and supplementation with glucosamine can prove positive. The body uses supplemental glucosamine to synthesize the proteoglycans and associated matrix in your cartilage.
Glucosamine seems to stimulate chondrocytes to produce these substances. Glucosamine also inhibits certain enzymes that destroy cartilage. By blocking some of the mechanisms that lead to joint degeneration, glucosamine may help delay the progression of the condition and may relieve symptoms even for weeks after supplementation ends.
Recommendation: 1,200 mg per day of glucosamine sulfate, as other forms of glucosamine such as hydrochloride simply do not have enough clinical data behind them to accept their use in joint support applications.
MSM is a naturally occurring, bioavailable sulfur compound found in plants, animals, and in humans. MSM is one-third sulfur by weight. Sulfur is the eighth most abundant element in all living organisms and forms part of virtually every living tissue. In addition to being found in substantial amounts in red blood cells, muscles, skin and hair, sulfur is a component of various amino acids (Cysteine, Methionine, Taurine), vitamins (Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin), antioxidant compounds (Alpha Lipoic Acid, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Glutathione), coenzymes (Acetyl Coenzyme A) and hormones (Insulin). MSM is generally regarded as one of the safest substances known. Preliminary studies suggest MSM may offer a safe, non-toxic way to help ease the pain of arthritis.
Recommendation: The majority of health care professionals suggest 2-6 grams per day in divided doses.
A potent antioxidant, Vitamin E offers nutritional assistance to those with joint concerns by helping to restore the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines, reducing inflammation. Vitamin E is a free radical scavenger, one of your best weapons against ‘oxidative stress’. Vitamin E sacrifices itself for the sake of your cells by donating part of itself to a free radical. That means that the disruptive free radical is no longer able to destroy the fatty portion of cell membranes.
Recommendation: 400 IU of natural (d-alpha) Vitamin E or 800 IU of synthetic (dl-alpha) daily with meals.