Arthritis is almost a generic name for any condition symptomatic of joint pain and site sensitive inflammation, there are more than 100 varieties and it is often implicated in other conditions – such as lupus, lyme diesease, fibromyalgia etc. That said there are two main types; osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and while some of the treatment protocols are similar, understanding which one you have will help discern the better treatment choices.
Osteoarthritis most often develops in people who are over 50 years of age – generally due to age related wear and tear. It can develop much earlier as a result of a sports injury or accidental trauma. Osteoarthritis affects cartilage – the protective connective tissue (shock absorber) between the bones thus causing the bones to friction and develops bony spurs referred to as osteophytes. The result is pain, inflammation, stiffness and deceased mobility.
While anti-inflammatories and pain relief is the order of the day, in the long term I would think of slowing cartilage decline by refining diet, staying hydrated, managing a program of healthy exercise to strengthen against strenuous or loadbearing movements.
When you are in pain everyone wants a miracle cure but there is no fast fix. The jury is still out on supplements. Calcium and magnesium may strengthen bone but it’s the cartilage that needs protection. Glucosamine and chondroitin are both structural components of cartilage – they both stimulate cartilage chondrocytes to produce new collagen and proteoglycans (that keeps mobility and pain buffing in play) but it is not currently clear if they can produce enough to reverse damage and may only slow further damage. More trials needed.
In terms of dietary changes – Cartilage is prominently comprised of water and collagen and so beyond staying hydrated you can pick foods that boost collagen production – again the jury is out as to how effective your body is in sending the collagen inducing nutrients to your wrinkles or to your knee. But the collagen enriching diet is also full of antioxidants and mild pain-relieving phytochemicals that it benefits overall wellbeing and can diminish pain perception too.
Foods most noted to kick-start our innate collagen production phase include almonds, avocados, beetroot, carrots, dark green vegetables, soy and garlic. Vitamin C is a key nutrient in collagen production
Rheumatoid arthritis can onset from late thirties, it is less about wear and tear and more about how the body’s immune system malfunctions and targets joints as if they were compromised. Antibodies attack he synovium (outer covering) of the joint triggering inflammation and thus pain signalling. Overtime this continual attack can cause changes in joint shape and affect healthy function.
The repeated inflammation is caused by an inflammatory cytokine called Interleukin 1-Beta (IL-1β) which also causes cartilage cells to produce proteins that digest join tissue – so a vicious cycle ensues. It can be noted that women are three times more likely to be develop rheumatoid arthritis than men and this may be related to decreased calcium and magnesium levels during child bearing and also menopause.
Calcium and magnesium rich foods or supplementation may help here – as those components do have a role in mitigating inflammation. Turmeric and ginger owe their yellow pigmentation to curcumin which when ingested exerts powerful anti-inflammatory effects in human physiology. Other culinary analgesics with good anti-inflammatory properties include cloves, cinnamon, cayenne, sage, thyme, oregano and ever helpful garlic.
Oily fish at meals and fish oil supplements are widely promoted to reduce joint swelling, pain sensation and morning stiffness associate with arthritis – and that’s pretty much down to their richness in omega-3 fatty acids which help not only with synovial coating but also decrease/inhibit C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 – which are two potently inflammatory proteins – thus enabling the body to better cope with inflammation responses.
There are many anti-inflammatory herbs that will benefit – Cats claw, devils claw, Maritime Pine Bark (Pycnogenol) etc. Always check that there is no conflict/counteracting between your current meds and any natural cures. I would also add that we must keep in mind that the rheumatoid arthritis condition is a faulty immune system attacking the joints and so we may seek to avoid any herbs or supplements that boost immune function during a flare up.
But this is the beauty of natural cures – while rosehips are packed with Vitamin C and so help our immune system to fight off seasonal colds and flus at this time of year, Rosehips are also great for arthritis pain relief – they work through their potential to impede chemotaxis (that is the transportation of immune cells including inflammation triggers into tissue) – they exert a slight immunosuppressive action on Interleukin 1-Beta (IL-1β) inhibiting its activation of those catabolic proteins that breakdown joint tissue.
A word of warning on all types – cold weather can decrease our pain tolerance threshold and changes in barometric pressure that book end storm fronts and even rain cycles can put pressure on the joints and trigger a flare up of inflammation – so at this time of the year wrapping up well is advice for more than the Christmas presents.