More than 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, making it the most common cause of disability in the USA. The term arthritis, meaning joint inflammation, is used to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, surrounding joint tissue and connective tissue. Arthritis affects people of all ages, races and ethnic groups. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These two types of arthritis have different causes, risk factors and effects but share the common symptoms of varying levels of pain, redness, warmth, swelling and joint stiffness.
Arthritis can be a result of aging, injury, metabolic abnormalities, hereditary factors, bacterial and viral infections and a misguided immune system.
- Osteoarthritis frequently affects the hips, knees, hands, fingers, and the spine. Often caused by a breakdown of the cartilage that protects and cushions the joints, it is commonly known as degenerative arthritis. Bony spurs can develop on the unprotected bones resulting in pain and swelling. Osteoarthritis begins slowly and in some cases may be attributed to prior injury. There is no cure for osteoarthritis and symptoms generally worsen over time. However, moderate low impact exercise, physical therapy, dietary changes, supplements, and weight management may help slow the progression of the disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the hands, wrists, feet, and cervical joints but can affect larger joints and other parts of the body as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks joints, organs and other body tissues causing widespread pain and destruction. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic systemic inflammatory disorder that causes damage to the joint linings, cartilage and bones that can lead to deformity and loss of joint function and mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause nodules to form on the skin and internal organs, inflammation of the lining of the lungs and heart, and damage to the glands of the eyes and mouth. Although there may be occasional periods of remissions and flares, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive debilitating and painful disease that can last a lifetime.
The goal of treating arthritic conditions is to reduce symptoms of pain, swelling and inflammation, slow the progression of joint damage, and maximize joint function to help people feel better and stay active. Treatment generally involves a combination of medications for pain and inflammation, rest alternating with joint strengthening exercises and physical and occupational therapies. Surgery is sometimes recommended to restore function if joint deformity is severe and causing unbearable pain.
Lifestyle remedies that may help reduce or relieve symptoms include:
Weight loss. Excess weight puts additional pressure on knee and hip joints. Maintaining a healthy weight takes initiative and vigilance. However, every pound lost equates to 4 pounds less pressure on your knees.
Exercise. Proper exercise is important in maintaining joint mobility and in strengthening the muscles around the joints. Swimming is particularly helpful because it allows exercise with minimal stress on the joints. Regular low impact exercise such as walking, stretching and cycling can aid in pain reduction and improve stiffness. During flare-ups, it’s best to rest the joints that are inflamed. During remission, exercise is necessary to retain joint flexibility and strength.
Heat and cold treatments. Cold compresses can reduce swelling, inflammation and pain. Apply a cold compress for 15 minutes with at least a 30 minute break between icings. Hot compresses help to relax muscles and stimulate blood flow. Application of a moist heating pad, a soak in the hot tub, or even a warm shower can help alleviate pain.
Eating for joint health. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a healthy diet should center on plant-based foods. Approximately two-thirds of your diet should come from plants, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The remaining third should include fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean sources of protein. An anti-inflammatory diet, also known as the Mediterranean diet, can lead to weight loss which aids management of joint pain.
- The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables help to defuse free radicals, reducing cell damage and curbing inflammation which benefits your heart as well as your joints. Research has shown that increasing your balance of omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in fruits, berries, vegetables and fish, helps mitigate chronic disease including rheumatoid arthritis by fighting inflammation, reducing joint pain and swelling, and lessening the duration of morning stiffness. Aim for a 3 – 4 ounce serving of fish at least twice weekly and 9 or more servings of fruits and veggies daily.
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds contain inflammation fighting monosaturated fats plus protein and fiber. Try for 1.5 ounces daily.
- Olive oil is a healthy monosaturated fat that’s anti-inflammatory and heart healthy. Olives contain polyphenols that inhibit activity of COX enzymes to fight inflammation and reduce pain sensitivity. It’s best to consume 2- 3 tablespoons daily of extra virgin olive oil as it is less refined thereby retaining more nutrient value.
- Beans contain fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and are a great source of protein. Beans provide sustained energy, have a low glycemic impact and contain immune boosting minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium. Red beans, kidney beans and pinto beans rank among the top antioxidant foods according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Inclusion of one cup of beans is suggested several times weekly.
- Red wine consumed in moderate amounts is considered beneficial as it contains flavonoids with powerful antioxidant properties.
- Limit saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar.
As always, a common sense approach is best. Healthy eating, exercise, joint care, pain management and reduction of inflammation appear to be the best ways to treat arthritic conditions.
Supplements that may relieve symptoms:
Glucosamine Chondroitin with MSM by Pure Encapsulations offers highly purified constituents for healthy cartilage formation and joint movement ease. Glucosamine HCl and chondroitin sulfate are combined with sulfur-containing methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) to provide an enhanced spectrum of nutrients for optimal cartilage matrix composition, connective tissue strength, and joint comfort.
EPA-DHA Liquid by Metagenics is an ideal source of health-promoting, antioxidant-stabilized, omega-3 essential fatty acids from purity-tested fish oil. The research-backed benefits of fish oil include promotion of back and joint health, support of key anti-inflammatory pathways, enhanced joint mobility and flexibility, and support of internal repair systems that operate in response to inflammation.
OsteoSheath by Vinco’s is a bone building complex for enhanced osteo support. This formula contains the three most bioavailable forms of calcium for daily nutrition: Mycrocrystaline Hydroxyapatite (MCHC), Calcium Amino Acid Chelate and Calcium Citrate. Chelated Magnesium, Vitamin D, and trace minerals Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Boron, Silicon, Molybdenum, and Vanadium are combined for a superior source of calcium.
Joint Ease by Vital Nutrients is a combination of herbal extracts and bromelain, a plant-based proteolytic enzyme. This combination of powerful antioxidants promotes a balanced inflammatory response. The botanicals in this formula nourish the cartilage and joints, supporting healthy cartilage and joint strength and promoting normal joint function.