Osteoarthritis is a debilitating condition for millions of Americans. In a healthy joint, the site where two or more bones meet is protected by cartilage and lubricated by synovial fluid, allowing smooth and painless motion. In arthritis, however, there is a breakdown of the cartilage and a reduction in synovial fluid between joints, causing excess friction, damage, and pain. While many consider this to be a typical sign of aging, there are many things that can be done to reduce pain and increase joint function.
1. Avoid NSAIDs – This step is a hard one, but very important. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include Tylenol, Aspirin, Advil, Aleve, and other over-the-counter pain relievers. While these are typical go-tos during painful arthritis episodes, the short-term relief provided is far outweighed by the long-term risks. Regular NSAID use leads to damage of the stomach lining, including ulcers. Additionally, NSAIDs block the body’s own anti-inflammatory processes, meaning that taking an NSAID now will cause you to be even more uncomfortable in the future. NSAIDs are truly a temporary band-aid and should never be used as the primary therapy.
2. Hydration – Believe it or not, one of the greatest weapons against arthritis pain is water. Cartilage is 65-80% water, and chondrocytes, essential cells within the joints, use great amounts of water to cushion the joints. To meet your individual water needs, take your body weight in pounds and divide that number by two. This is the number of ounces you should be drinking each day, as a starting place. If you are drinking many diuretics, such as coffee, soda, or alcohol, you must drink even more water to be adequately hydrated. A rate of 1.5 oz. of water for each ounce of diuretic is adequate. Try “sandwiching” each cup of coffee with a cup of water both before and after.
3. Foods – Many foods can either help or hinder joint health. Foods you should be eating include daily cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) and a range of healthy fats. Focus on Omega-3’s, 6’s, and 9’s from salmon, flax and pumpkin seeds, avocados and olives. Generous and regular doses of these fats support the body’s healing anti-inflammatory process.
A major food to avoid is sugar. Sugar raises insulin and promotes painful inflammation. A simple way to get rid of sugar is to start cooking at home with fresh, whole ingredients. Processed foods and restaurant foods often contain great amounts of sugar. A surprising group of foods worth investigating is the nightshade vegetables which includes tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. For some people, these can exacerbate arthritic pain. Try eliminating them from your diet for a month to see if you notice a difference in your arthritic aches.
4. Exercise – Do you notice that you feel extra stiff after sitting for a long time? Cartilage does not have its own blood supply, but requires circulation for transports of nutrients. Without access to active blood flow, passive circulation is required. This can be achieved by regular, frequent exercise. Movements like daily walking and swimming can be just enough to encourage nutrient flow in the joints without causing additional pain.
5. Supplements – Lifestyle and diet will make the greatest difference with arthritis, but supplementation can be a nice addition on top of those other changes. Here are some to consider:
Chondroitin Sulfate – This compound has been shown to balance the enzymatic activities of cartilage breakdown and repair.
Glucosamine – Glucosamine has been show to encourage cartilage repair.
Vitamin C and Manganese – This vitamin and mineral pair work together to keep cartilage healthy.
MSM – When chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are not quite enough, the addition of MSM can help bring good relief and function to the joints.
Living without the pain of arthritis can be a reality with a shift in nutrition, hydration, and activity.
Buishas, J. (2003, Summer). Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis. Nutritional Therapist.
Haas, E. M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. 2006. Ten Speed Press, New York.