Osteoarthritis is big problem. Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from it. Because it is such a prevalent problem as we grow older, I am going to devote two columns to it. Today I’ll talk about the causes.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that is commonly believed to be incurable; the standard medical response is to prescribe medicines that reduce only the symptoms. However, in my clinical experience I have found that many of the symptoms of osteoarthritis can be reduced and alleviated through diet, exercise and stress reduction and that cartilage can be rebuilt through the use of certain supplements.
What is osteoarthritis?
It’s a degenerative joint disease that is caused by the inflammation of the joints and their surrounding tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Cartilage is found between the bones and serves an important role in joint function. Its gel-like nature acts as a shock absorber to protect the ends of the joints.
The onset of osteoarthritis can be quite subtle. Primary osteoarthritis is caused by the wear and tear process of aging. Decades of use and stress to the cartilage lead to degenerative changes. Arthritis usually starts as joint pain and stiffness after age 50. If the degeneration is strong enough it can lead to bone rubbing against bone. Degeneration can also occur when the number and activity of the important repair enzymes of the cartilage are greatly reduced.
Secondary arthritis is caused by some other predisposing factors such as trauma or structural abnormalities.
Any part of the body can be affected – the feet, knees, back, shoulders, fingers, etc. and particular symptoms often include stiffness, pain worsening on joint use, loss of joint function, tenderness, swelling, creaking, and cracking.
Because arthritis is so painful and crippling, it always amazes me that people don’t fight it more aggressively. People think this degenerative disease is inevitable – and it’s not! With naturopathic care, it can be prevented and even reversed.
Age, excess weight, wear and tear, a lifetime of inadequate diet, nutritional deficiencies, and lack of exercise are often cited as factors in osteoarthritis. Skeletal defects, genetic factors, and hormonal deficiencies can also be factors in this disease.
Conventional medical treatment of osteoarthritis consists of stopping the inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These drugs can help to decrease the inflammation of the joints but there are common side effects such as g.i. upset, headaches, and dizziness. A less well known side effect is that these drugs can actually add to the further degeneration of the joint cartilage. Experimental studies have shown that aspirin and other NSAIDS inhibit cartilage synthesis and accelerate cartilage destruction. Clinical studies have shown that NSAIDS use is associated with acceleration of osteoarthritis and increased joint destruction.
Another interesting fact about osteoarthritis is that there is often a lack of correlation between the severity of the degenerative changes and the amount of pain. Some people with little deformity have much pain while some with a great amount of degeneration experience little pain.
To begin with, nutrition is important and can accomplish a major goal in the treatment of arthritis. If you have arthritis your diet should be rich in fruits and vegetables, which are rich sources of anti-oxidants that can protect against cellular and joint damage. Avoid all simple processed and concentrated carbohydrates, including sugar and fruit juices. Stress high fibre foods. Keep fats to a minimum. Flavonoid rich foods such as cherries, blueberries, and blackberries are beneficial in the treatment of arthritis because they prevent the destruction of the joint structure.
A substance in the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers) can inhibit normal collagen repair in the joints. Try a three-month diet free of foods from the nightshade family to see if this is a predisposing factor for your arthritis.
The elimination of food allergies can be an important step in reducing joint pain. If you have a wheat sensitivity, wheat products can often produce joint pain. Do have a test for food sensitivities because there may be other allergies involved.
A detox treatment can be very useful. A detox diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish combined with a series of detox supplements can eliminate toxins and inflammatory by products from the blood, thereby decreasing the pain and inflammation of the joints.
There are several supplements that can be extremely beneficial. Anti-oxidants can help prevent damage to the cartilage of the bone. Vitamin E has the ability to inhibit the breakdown of cartilage as well as the ability to stimulate the manufacture of cartilage components. Vitamin C is necessary to the manufacture of collagen, the major support protein of cartilage. As we age, we tend to become more deficient in Vitamin C and this deficiency is known to produce poor collagen synthesis.
Certainly one of the most impressive supplements in the treatment of osteoarthritis in the last decade had been glucosamine sulfate. Double blind studies have shown that glucosamine sulfate produces better long term results than aspirin type pills in reducing the inflammation and pain of osteoarthritis. It treats the root of the problem by promoting cartilage growth.
Some botanicals that are useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis include a native African plant called Devil’s Claw. Devil’s Claw can act as an anti-inflammatory and also has a pain killing effect on the sore joints. Boswella Serrapa can decrease inflammatory pathways, stop cartilage breakdown, and increase the blood supply to the joints.
Physical therapy can be very important in reestablishing joint integrity. Various physical therapy treatments like exercise, heat, cold, and diathermy can be beneficial in increasing joint mobility and decreasing pain. However, avoid physical activities that overly strain the joints.
Massage therapy, physiotherapy, and chiropractic can be utilized to decrease joint strain.
I hope this column has given you a glimpse of the many things that can be done to stop and even reverse osteoarthritis. Work with your health care professional to create a health plan that’s right for you. I hope I have shown you that degeneration is not inevitable.