Stiff, painful joints are the hallmarks of osteoarthritis, an inflammatory condition that involves the breakdown of cartilage. Healthy joints surfaces are covered by a flexible layer of spongy cartilage that acts like a shock absorber and allows for smooth movement. But, if you suffer from osteoarthritis, the protective cartilage deteriorates, eventually causing bones to rub together. This triggers inflammation, pain, and, over time, permanent joint damage.
Since inflammation plays a central role in the severity of arthritis symptoms, adopting an anti-inflammatory diet such as a Mediterranean diet based on fresh unprocessed foods may offer support to ailing joints. Be sure to include five to nine servings of colorful fruits and vegetables as part of your diet every day. Whole grains and beans also ease inflammation and help to keep blood sugar levels stable. The fats and oils you consume also matter. Olive oil and healthy fats from fish, walnuts, and flaxseed are natural inflammation fighters; while the saturated fat in meat and dairy, as well as the trans-fat found in many processed foods, actually foster chronic inflammation.
It’s also important to watch your portion sizes. Overeating even if you only eat the healthy foods mentioned above can contribute to significant weight gain. Being overweight or obese is a key risk factor for arthritis. In fact, according to Johns Hopkins Rheumatology Center, being just 10 pounds overweight increases the force on the knee by 30 to 60 pounds each time you take a step. The good news is that even a small amount of weight loss reduces the risk of developing arthritis in the knee. If you already suffer from the condition, preliminary studies suggest that weight loss can help to substantially decrease joint pain.
If you suffer from joint pain, moving may be the last thing you want to do. However, regular exercise is important to help maintain joint flexibility and function. The best type of exercise is low-impact and includes bicycling, walking, swimming, water aerobics, rowing, isometrics, and low resistance strength training. Check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program, especially if you already have joint damage. Acupuncture is a wonderful way to lower pain and avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (like aspirin or Tylenol) or arthritis medications, which can damage the digestive tract when used chronically.
Glucosamine: is a well-researched supplement that works to help address structural damage by stimulating cartilage growth and slowing its breakdown. Glucosamine is so effective that a 2008 study in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage found that long-term use (at least 12 months) reduced the need for joint surgery by 57 percent. To further enhance these benefits, many joint supplements also include chondroitin, hydrolyzed collagen; and hyaluronic acid; two structural compounds naturally found in healthy joints. Typical dosage: 1,500 mg of glucosamine daily.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): is a key source of sulfur, a mineral that is essential for healthy joint function. According to a 2011 placebo-controlled clinical trial in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, MSM significantly improved both pain and physical function after 12 weeks. Typical dosage: 500 mg per 30 lbs. of body weight twice a day.
Boswellia, Curcumin, Ginger: and other anti-inflammatory herbs: While glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM can be highly effective on a long-term basis, these herbs may offer more immediate relief from joint pain. In one double-blind placebo-controlled study, boswellia not only relieved pain and inflammation, it also increased flexibility and walking distance. Other research shows that curcumin effectively inhibits the inflammatory compounds that trigger swelling, stiffness, and pain.