Achy knees. Sore joints. Back pain. For the 52.5 million sufferers of arthritis, these issues are an everyday reality. The condition can impact mobility and quality of life, turning typical daily activities like opening a jar into a painful experience.
I know the diagnosis of arthritis can be disheartening and the unknowns of the disease can even be scary. But luckily, the human body has the incredible ability to support wellness. Lets explore the condition and what you can do to naturally promote the health of your joints.
Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. The term refers to over 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that impact joints, tissues that surround the joints and other connective tissue. According to the Arthritis Foundation, joint inflammation is one of the most prevalent chronic health problems and a leading cause of disability.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is characterized by reduced joint function and loss of cartilage, the natural shock absorber in your joints. Arthritis increases with age, with 50 percent of Americans over age 65 having some form of arthritis symptom.
While medical experts haven’t been able to pinpoint a specific reason a person develops arthritis, its causes include age-related changes in natural repair mechanisms, obesity, genetic predisposition and inflammation. Inflammation that impacts the joints may be from a high intake of pro-inflammatory foods such as saturated fats or processed foods. It may also be related to the damage associated with wear and tear. As the joint tissues are damaged, the immune system response can include inflammation that eventually leads to arthritis.
Treating the cause naturally
Doctors commonly prescribe aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medications to treat arthritis. While those options might provide some pain relief, research in the Journal of Rheumatology and the European Journal of Rheumatology and Inflammation has shown they actually inhibit cartilage synthesis and accelerate cartilage destruction. Put simply, science has shown they can do more harm than good.
While I understand that over-the-counter and prescription medications may be necessary for many individuals to manage their arthritis symptoms, the key is to recognize the risks associated with these medications and to use them wisely. In addition, a holistic approach that combines healthy lifestyle strategies (weight loss and regular, moderate exercise), dietary changes designed to reduce inflammation and the inclusion of nutritional supplements that support joint health is the best all-around approach. For most patients, I recommend a supplementation combination of glucosamine sulfate, antioxidants, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3. Be sure to talk to your doctor to determine the supplementation regimen for your needs.
Glucosamine is a substance in the fluid around the joints that supports natural cartilage repair mechanisms in the body. Glucosamine sulfate can also be taken as a dietary supplement to support the cartilage and fluid surrounding the joints; the addition of sulfate is important because the body needs sulfate to produce cartilage. Multiple studies support the effectiveness of supplementing with this nutrient. One study published in the journal Rheumatology International found that glucosamine treatment produced noticeable improvements in symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Additional research published in the journal Lancet showed that supplementation with glucosamine sulfate may be effective in long-term treatment of osteoarthritis.
Dosage: 1,500 milligrams glucosamine sulfate daily
Oxidation is a normal process that occurs in the human body; unfortunately, while its normal, the free radicals produced from oxidation can have harmful effects on your body, including your joints. Antioxidants help reduce the damage from oxidation and support joint health.
Eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, is important. Supplemental antioxidants like vitamin C can provide additional support, especially for arthritis sufferers.
Dosage: 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams vitamin C per day
While calcium doesn’t specifically play a role in joint health, it is important for supporting the health of your bones. In fact, 99 percent of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth, where it supports structure and function. Food sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, cabbage, kale and broccoli, along with fortified foods like juices, drinks, tofu and cereal. A calcium supplement can also be an important strategy for supporting bone health.
Dosage: 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams per day
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, over 60 percent of the population is deficient in vitamin D, and people with arthritis may be even more likely than others to be deficient. Vitamin D is important for the health of the joints and overall bone health which is why most medical professionals recommend supplementation as early as infancy. Since aging results in loss of bone mass and density, stiffer and less flexible joints, and a decrease in fluid and cartilage around the joints, among other conditions, vitamin D supplementation is critical as you age.
Dosage: 2,000 to 5,000 international units (IU) per day. Research evidence may extend the dosage of vitamin D3 to 10,000 IU per day for certain health conditions.
Omega-3s from fish oil
The benefits of omega-3s from fish oil extend beyond the heart. Fish oils inhibit substances that contribute to inflammation and have shown benefits for osteoarthritis. An intriguing study published in the journal Surgical Neurology found that ibuprofen and omega-3 fatty acids have an equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain. For this and many other reasons, I recommend daily supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids.
Dosage: 500 milligrams total omega-3s EPA and DHA per day
As always, be sure to talk to your doctor before stopping any medication or starting a supplementation regimen. And remember that lifestyle changes and supplementation take time and consistency to see results. You wont notice a change overnight, but daily supplementation will support long-term health and vitality.
Dr. Andrew Myers is an expert in nutrition and preventive medicine and the co-author of The New Heart Health and the Health Is Wealth series.