Climbing the stairs the other day you relalized that your knees were complaining a bit. But you’re only 39; you’re too young to have those old problems like arthritis or osteoarthritis. Are you? Not so, says Jason Theodosakis, M.D., author of The Arthritis Cure. Symptoms of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, are showing up in men and women in their 40s and 50s, and even younger, he says.
Joint health is the heart of our physical movements and you probably never thinks about it but healthy joints control every movement in our bodies. Today, nearly 21 million Americans grapple with osteoarthritis, a condition often marked by debilitating pain, stiffness, and sometimes swelling in or around the joints.
If you suffer or know someone, consider these options for better joint health:
1. Lose Weight
Excess weight, especially in your knees and hips, causes the joint more strain and the cartilage in these areas is more vulnerable to erosion. Carrying excess weight causes more inflammation, which in turn causes pain and stiffness. But research suggests that for every pound you lose, you protect your joints from four to eight pounds of extra pressure. (Check your Body Mass Index by searching for “BMI” at cdc.gov, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website)
2. Joint-friendly foods
Diets high in anti-inflammatory foods can help keep osteoarthritis at a distance and it also helps its symptoms if you already have OA. Dr. Vijay Vad, M.D., author of Arthritis Rx (Gotham Books, 2006), and sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, recommends fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fats from cold-water fish, olive oil, and walnuts. Avoid or eliminate red meat, dairy, polyunsaturated vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, soy, peanut, and corn), refined grains and sugars (white breads, white flour pastas), and processed foods.
Low impact, joint-friendly exercises like biking, walking, and water aerobics are great exercises to get you moving and to help keep your joints healthy and moving easily. Stretching and range of motion exercises like yoga and tai chi are also great for keeping your joints working with you. Tai chi’s slow movements might help restore balance and strengthen muscles without stressing joints. A recent review of 12 studies shows that tai chi can help control OA knee pain. Try low impact exercises 4 to 5 times a day with 1 to 2 days of yoga. Strength training is also great for you. If you have time try, to incorporate 1 to 2 days of that as well, but remember to listen to your body and to rest and take days off when you feel pain or swelling.
4. Contrast Hydrotherapy
Soaking your hands or feet in hot water for 3 minutes then submerging them into cold water for 30 seconds can help OA pain and stiffness. Heat increases blood flow to the joint, while cold moves it away, so alternating the temperature creates the equivalent of a pump that nourishes and lubricates the joint.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Previous research studies have shown that people who had mild to moderate osteoarthritis and took glucosamine and chondroitin had similar relief to those who took anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Recommended: Glucosamine, 1,500 mg per day; Chondroitin, 1,200 mg per day (improvement should show within three to four months)
If you would like to go all natural in pain relief, Devil’s Claw may be something to look into. Devil’s Claw is a native plant of Africa, which in limited studies showed that it decreased pain and improved mobility in patients within 10 days of beginning the treatments. Recommended: Depends on the supplement; follow label instructions or consult a knowledgeable homeopath or naturopath.
S-Adenosylmethionine, or SAM-e, is another healthy joint option. SAM-e is produced by the body to help maintain cell membranes and regulate the creation and maintenance of cartilage. SAM-e is also used in Europe to combat liver disease and depression. This multipurpose supplement not only treats pain and inflammation but also shows promise in slowing the progress of disease, says Dr. David Rakel, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health. The only drawback is the price tag, roughly between $1 and $3 per day. Recommended: Buy dark bottles or blister packs of SAM-e because sun light causes it to oxidize. Take 400 to 800 mg per day
Eat Your Way to Healthy Joints
- FISH OIL. Best known for its cardiovascular benefits, fish oil’s omega-3 fats can also help lessen inflammation and pain. You may think that fish oil is fish oil but quality is important when taking fish oil. Made from freshly caught fish, when one company is done using the fish for their oil, they pass it down the line for another company to use. So getting a higher quality oil is the way to go. Nordic Naturals is one of the best on the market. Recommended: 3 g daily
- ASU. Isolated and purified from two foods, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), is thought to reduce joint inflammation, promote the repair of cartilage, and alter abnormal bone growth in OA. Recommended: 300 mg daily.
- TURMERIC. Sooth inflammation in swollen joints with curcumin, the active ingredient found in tumeric. Recommended: 400 to 600 mg three times a day.
- GINGER. Harness the anti-inflammatory property of gingerols, found in ginger. Avoid if you take other blood thinners or if it upsets your stomach. Recommended: 500 to 1,000 mg daily.