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The Important Truth About Joint Health

By ND.

Chances are you or someone you know has osteoarthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis affects more than 40 million Americans, and many more women than men. While most people do not suffer from the aches and pains of osteoarthritis until after 50, it affects more than 85 percent of the population after age 70.

If you have arthritis and have been to a conventional medical practitioner, you might be reading this with a skeptical eye. You may have been told that arthritis is incurable, a result of age or genetics, and that you simply have to learn to live with its symptoms. You may even have been warned against any alternative therapies that claim to solve your problem. Well, forget what you’ve heard. Millions upon millions of people have lived painful, disabled, even crippled lives because of such misconceptions. You don’t have to be one of them.

There are two primary types of osteoarthritis. The first is caused by the gradual wear and tear on your cartilage that comes about simply from daily life. The second is due to injury or disease and can show up at any time. A car accident, an old football injury—they may "heal" beautifully at the time, and then reappear to cause joint problems later on in life. In addition, there are many other factors—such as repetitive stress injuries, antibiotics, candidiasis, food allergies, parasites, leaky gut syndrome, hormone deficiency, genetics, and being overweight—that can cause, contribute, or lead to the aches and pains of arthritis.

An Engineering Miracle

Your body is an engineering miracle of bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissue that not only supports up to hundreds of pounds every day, but also performs thousands of acts that require strength and flexibility. The entire structure is set up to move smoothly through a wide range of motions, in large part because of the design of our joints.

At the very ends of adjoining bones, there is a tough, cushioning substance called joint or articular cartilage (it’s the same stuff that’s on the end of a chicken drumstick), a smooth, slick, resilient covering that allows bones to glide painlessly over one another inside a capsule in your joints.

Most of the joints in your body are free-moving or synovial joints. A clear, thick, lubricating fluid is produced by the synovial sac or inner walls of the joint capsule, and it creates a slippery, protective environment in which the joint can operate. Synovial joints are the most prone to arthritis.

An Engineering Breakdown

Your first few decades of easy movement—playing, running, dancing, walking, gardening, and so on—eventually start wearing down cartilage and impeding its ability to move smoothly within the joint capsule. This is when arthritis can set in. While your body can regenerate cartilage, its ability to do so declines with age. After a while, you may be left with almost complete bone-on-bone contact within the joint capsule, and that just plain hurts. Pain, swelling, stiffness, and creaky joints—it all comes with the territory.

As we age, our bodies don’t repair themselves as well as they did in our youth. Free-radical damage, inflammation caused by injury, infection, exposure to toxins, viruses, bacteria, high sugar intake, too many "bad" fats and too few "good" fats—they all contribute to or result in inflammation. In short, if you’ve been alive for several decades or more, your body is dealing with the effects of inflammation, and they can etch and destroy your cartilage. (For more on chronic inflammation, see The Important Truth about Heart Disease)

You can’t make your cartilage regenerate as quickly as it did in your youth, but you can take steps to reduce inflammation and that can go a long way toward improving your condition.

Drug-Free Solutions

Rather than risk the well-publicized side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) and pharmaceutical COX-2 inhibitors, try these safe, effective, and drug-free therapies that can put a spring back in your step in no time at all.

Avoid inflammation triggers

* Steer clear of processed and canned foods; white-flour foods (crackers, white rice, white bread, and white pasta); fried foods; sugar; caffeine; and hydrogenated or processed oils (found in margarine, peanut butter, potato chips, etc.)
* Figure out your food allergens—they can trigger symptoms of arthritis. You can be tested for these allergies or try an elimination diet. Every two weeks, eliminate one of the foods below for fourteen days. Pay attention to how you feel during that time. Slowly reintroduce a modest amount of the food, and track how you feel. A journal can help you put the pieces together. Avoid a different food from this list every two weeks. The most common food allergens include dairy, wheat, peanuts, eggs, red meat, and fried foods. Arthritis sufferers are also prone to a bad reaction to white potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggs, and brewers and bakers yeast.

Care for your cartilage and synovial fluid

* Take 1,500 mg glucosamine sulfate per day. This is one of the most important nutrients you can take to support your joints. Produced in your body—glucosamine is part of one of the building blocks of your cartilage, and is also found in your synovial fluid. It is needed to produce lubrication and protection for your joints, reduce synovial joint inflammation, stimulate the growth of new cartilage cells, reduce cartilage breakdown, and help rebuild damaged cartilage.
* Supplement with 1,200 mg low molecular weight chondroitin sulfate per day. If you haven’t had luck with chondroitin sulfate before, it may be that you were using the wrong kind. Chondroitin sulfate supports the strength and resiliency of your cartilage, and encourages its production of cartilage, but it is not easily absorbed. Research has shown that low molecular weight chondroitin sulfate has a much higher absorption rate, which means it can get into your bloodstream and joints where it can really help.

Calm your COX-2s

* Use two types of ginger, Zingziber officinale and Alpinia galanga, to reduce COX-2 enzymes that produce pain and inflammation causing chemicals called prostaglandins. You’ve probably seen the massive advertising campaign for pharmaceutical COX-2 inhibitors, but this herbal combination does the same thing without the alarming side effects and inhibits 5-LO enzymes which produce leukotrienes, another group of inflammation chemicals. Pharmaceutical COX-2 inhibitors do not affect 5-LO at all.

Exercise your rights

* Controlled exercise, such as stretching, yoga, T’ai Chi, and Qigong, will greatly increase your range of motion and flexibility, likely without injuring you in the process. Each of these exercises has a wide range of levels that you can master at your own speed. Even 15–20 minutes a day can work wonders. If exercise is painful, gently persevere and you will likely feel better at the end. Don’t forget to stretch afterward. Let your body guide you—if you are very stiff or painful after a particular exercise, try something different or perform it less intensely.

Glucosamine therapy for treating osteoarthritis

Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen's University

"Glucosamine was superior to placebo in the treatment of pain and functional impairment resulting from symptomatic osteoarthritis."

Cochrane Database Systematic Review. 2005 Apr 18;(2):CD002946 PMID:15846645

Marcus Laux

Author Marcus Laux is a licensed naturopathic medical doctor.

Arthritis inflammation, joint pain relief treatments and exercises.

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Updated: Dec 21 2013