Arthritis is portrayed as a rather simple disease. In fact there are several interlinked causes of arthritis. Once you understand them better, you’ll understand why some food supplements fail and why effective treatment and relief is really possible.
It’s not age!
The chances of suffering with osteoarthritis may increase with age, but it is clearly not caused by age in itself. Most people develop osteoarthritis in just a few joints – yet all their joints are the same age!
Osteoarthritis develops when the rate of cartilage breakdown exceeds the rate of cartilage regeneration.
It’s about cartilage breakdown and regeneration
Along with almost every tissue in the body, cartilage is continually recycled. As old cartilage is broken down, new cartilage is being created. As long as these processes are in balance, your joints remain healthy. The problems start when wear exceeds repair.
Cartilage is the flexible connective tissue that forms a protective cap over bones, where they meet to form joints. It’s a ‘shock absorber’ that allows the smooth movement of one bone against another.
As cartilage begins to break down, painful bony spurs often form, which are an attempt by the body to stabilise the damaged joint.
Joints may undergo degenerative changes for years before any symptoms develop. Early symptoms can include feeling stiff for a short time after getting up in the morning. More advanced symptoms can include continual stiffness throughout the day, a reduced range of motion, and joint pain and swelling.
Healthy cartilage needs both activity AND rest
Cartilage does not have a direct blood supply, so it needs to obtain its nutrients and get rid of its waste products in a different way from other tissues.
In fact cartilage acts rather like a sponge. As the joint is moved and compressed, waste fluids are released – ‘squeezed out’ – of the cartilage. Then as the joint comes to rest, the nutrients the cartilage needs are absorbed – ‘soaked up’.
This has clear implications. Unless you are continuing to move the joint you won’t be getting rid of wastes. And unless you take a break and rest – ideally lying down – your cartilage won’t be taking in the nutrients properly. So both activity and rest are necessary for the health of your cartilage.
Most people with arthritis have some restricted motion in a joint or joints – which along with inflammation is a cause of pain. They will benefit from gentle manipulation of these joints – ideally by another person. That ensures the alternating compression and expansion of the cartilage which, in turn, ensures the essential inflow of nutrients and outflow of wastes.
You can help reduce restricted motion through hot baths, heat therapy, massage and stretching.
Stretching works muscles and tendons which are meant to be elastic, rather than the ligaments that bind cartilage to bone and which are not designed to be elastic.
Recent research also shows that certain electrical frequencies can stimulate cartilage regeneration. Ultrasound therapy has been used for rheumatoid arthritis for some time and is increasingly being used for osteoarthritis, as it can stimulate deep heat. This heat increases blood flow and nutrient delivery to the tissues surrounding the joint. Ultrasound also may stimulate new collagen formation.
Arthritis is a disease of inflammation
Any disease ending in ‘-itis’ is an inflammatory disease. And what is called ‘chronic sub-clinical inflammation’ is now known to be a driver of almost all the so-called age related diseases.
Chronic means ‘continuous’ and sub-clinical means ‘not detectible’. So chronic inflammation is an insidious condition.
“Inflammation is an underlying contributor to virtually every chronic disease … rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and depression, along with major killers such as heart disease and stroke. The connection between inflammation and cancer has now moved to center stage in the research arena.”
“Inflammatory factors predict virtually all bad outcomes in humans … having heart attacks, having heart failure, becoming diabetic … becoming fragile in old age … cognitive function decline, even cancer to a certain extent.”
Russell Tracy, Professor of Pathology and Biochemistry, University of Vermont College of Medicine
The good news is that by combating inflammation within joint tissues, you are simultaneously combating and helping to reduce your risk of other even more serious diseases. You can do that with an anti-inflammatory diet, gentle exercise and certain powerful natural anti-inflammatory supplements.
How inflammation starts
Inflammation due to pathogens
When the immune system comes in contact with a pathogen – a foreign invader – pro-inflammatory ‘messenger molecules’ called cytokines are released from white blood cells and circulate throughout the body.
Cytokines stimulate joint tissues to produce nitric oxide which, in high concentrations, is a free radical and contributes to direct damage of tissues. At the same time collagen fibres may become cross-linked – which makes them stiffer and less flexible. The result is a breakdown of collagen and weakening of cartilage.
This cross-linking is made a lot worse if blood sugar levels are high, which causes cells in these fibres to become glycated – essentially sugar coated. That’s why diabetes – characterised by overly high blood sugar levels – and arthritis are linked. Reducing the sugar content in your diet is an important element in a complete plan.
Inflammation due to oxidative stress
Oxidative stress also creates inflammation. Oxidative stress is where excess free radicals predominate over dietary and internally produced antioxidants and damage tissue. Oxidative stress can result from mental stress, insulin resistance, air pollution, trauma, excess alcohol, cigarette smoke, many medications, allergens, excessive exercise and dietary factors, such as excess sugar, saturated fat, and overheated fats and oils.
So any successful arthritis programme must include anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Beware of the pharmaceutical answer!
The pharmaceutical answer to inflammation has been NSAIDs – Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.
NSAIDs block the effects of special enzymes called COX-1 and COX-2. COX enzymes play a major role in making prostaglandins – fatty acid hormone-like compounds that direct the inflammatory response. By blocking the COX enzymes, NSAIDs stop your body from producing as many prostaglandins, meaning less inflammation and less swelling and pain.
So they work.
However, NSAIDs also inhibit other compounds that are necessary for healing to take place. So, while NSAIDs reduce pain, they can also impair the body’s production of new connective tissue – potentially promoting the arthritic process!
More seriously, thousands of people die every year from taking NSAIDs because of other side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and deteriorated kidney function.
Natural anti-inflammatory and tissue repair promoters from food
It follows that if you can reduce excess nitric oxide, inflammation and oxidative stress, you reduce three of the drivers of arthritis. And if you can encourage the body to renew cartilage tissue and bone, you may slow, halt or even possibly reverse the process.
Fortunately research shows that a form of vitamin E called gamma tocopherol and the spice derived curcumin can all help regularise nitric oxide.
Anti-inflammatory and pain reducing supplements include Omega 3 fish oil, vitamin B3, curcumin, grapeseed and green tea extract, flax seed oil, vitamin E, zinc, selenium and boswellia serrata.
An anti-inflammatory food diet should feature plenty of berry fruits, leafy green vegetables, oily fish, and cooking with the anti-inflammatory spices turmeric (for its curcumin content) and ginger. The full details are shown here at http://www.nutrishield.com/the-science/anti-inflammatory.
One food, however, may have a very specific effect – avocado.
Avocados contain mono-unsaturated fats – essential fatty acids and vitamin E – which can promote the repair of cartilage. They also incidentally contain good doses of heart healthy potassium and magnesium.
A three year programme in France, published in the US National Library of Health in 2015, studied an avocado oil/soybean oil combination, and found impressive results on pain relief, particularly for arthritis of the hips and knees.
The preferred avocado/soybean combination appears to be a ratio of 1:2 and goes by the rather indigestible name of ‘Avocado-Soybean Unsaponifiables’ (ASU).
ASU appears to block the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body and thus prevents damage caused to the synovial cells in the joints. This in turn protects the joints against damage and helps in regeneration of normal tissue.
A previous 2008 meta-analysis found that ASU improved symptoms of hip and knee osteo-arthritis, and reduced or eliminated NSAID use.
Our advice is to eat an avocado regularly. But we advise against anything except unrefined soybean oil or virgin olive oil as part of a dressing. Soybean oil in processed foods is a major factor in promoting inflammation as it is almost always hydrogenated for stability. Virgin olive oil should have a similar effect to the oils used in the research and is more readily available than unrefined soybean oil.
As far as rebuilding connective tissue is concerned, you will have seen sales messages about the benefits of glucosamine. It’s true that glucosamine and indeed chondroitin are key components of connective tissue and can help the repair process.
But – and this is the reason for so many people’s disappointment with glucosamine – neither is well utilised by the body unless there is adequate and accompanying vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2. So an arthritis supplement should contain these vitamins. (And vitamin C is also needed for the production of collagen).
You should note that glucosamine and chondroitin are chemically almost the same. So glucosamine is enough on its own.
Try to reduce stress
Hormone balance is important for your overall health – and that includes joint tissue.
Prolonged stress results in subnormal cortisol levels, which in turn reduces the body’s manufacture of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds. Stress can therefore contribute to or worsen arthritis.
There is a simple and quick stress-buster exercise at http://www.nutrishield.com/6-steps-instant-relaxation/
Other non-drug therapies
According to the Arthritis Foundation (at arthritis.org) neither copper bracelets nor magnetic wrist straps help relieve pain beyond a placebo effect. On the other hand, acupuncture can work for some people, and so can Tai Chi and Yoga.
Tai Chi, an originally Chinese exercise system, combines gentle flowing movements, deep breathing and meditation. It has been shown to reduce joint pain, and also improve a range of movement and joint function.
The slow, controlled body poses involved in Yoga are also helpful for arthritis sufferers and the Arthritis Foundation offers a DVD that is specifically produced for this purpose.
If you need to, lose weight. It’s obvious that weight puts an extra strain on joints but the surprising fact is that losing just one pound of weight relieves four pounds of pressure on swollen, painful joints!
The other reason to lose weight is that fat cells (adipose cells), and especially fat cells around the belly, secrete cytokines which, as we have seen, increase inflammation that attacks and damages joint cartilage.
Capsaicin is a chili-pepper-derived ingredient in certain topical gels or creams. It temporarily reduces a pain transmitter called substance P. A 2010 study published in Phytotherapy Research, showed a 50 percent reduction in joint pain after three weeks of use.
A small study of 56 patients has shown that Gamma Linoleic Acid – GLA – may also help relieve pain. Although the amount of GLA is small in, for example, a borage oil or evening primrose oil supplement – you should know that GLA is an Omega 6 fatty acid.
It is accepted that one of the main pro-inflammatory factors in the Western diet is the far too high ratio of Omega 6 – which is pro-inflammatory – to Omega 3 – which is anti-inflammatory.
Indeed the typical Western diet contains 16 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, whereas the ratio should be about 6:1. Many physicians blame this high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids for the large number of inflammatory diseases in the population – including of course arthritis.
A safe and effective natural plan for osteoarthritis relief
A successful and complete non-drug osteoarthritis plan therefore should include:
1. Physical actions that include gentle manipulation of affected joints and frequent moderate exercise like walking and stretching. Investigate heat treatment, and perhaps ultra-sound.
2. An anti-inflammatory diet which promotes joint health specifically and overall health generally.
3. Stress relief exercise and breaks throughout the day.
4. Capsaicin gel if pain is extreme and you find it helps.
5. A comprehensive health supplement that includes not just A-Z vitamins and minerals but optimum levels of vitamin E and vitamin D3, the natural anti-inflammatory nutrients Omega 3, grapeseed and green tea extract plus anti-oxidants. See www.nutrishield.com
6. A specific supplement for joints that should include curcumin, vitamin D and K, and glucosamine to provide the building blocks for cartilage repair. See www.jointshield.com
For an even fuller account of how arthritis develops and how to tackle it see: http://www.uni-vite.com/jointshield/arthritis-by-dr-paul-clayton/
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Dr Paul Clayton’s best-selling book Health Defence is available from most good bookstores.
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