Arm Yourself Against the Crippling Disease of Arthritis


by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher


There are many forms of arthritis, but one thing they all have in common is their ability to produce debilitating pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the body’s joints and connective tissues.  Just as there are common threads of symptoms among the many forms of arthritis, there are also common threads of remedies to help treat the misery-inducing ailment, which afflicts millions of Americans every year.
            Let’s look at some factors that can both help prevent (or delay onset of) arthritis and also help treat the condition.
            •  To begin, limit intake of pro-inflammatory diet influences, such as simple sugars and carbohydrates.
            •  Next, increase intake of fish and flax seeds and fish and flax oils for their inflammation reducing Omega-3 fatty acids.
            •  Thirdly, keep moving.  Any sort of “exercise” can help improve blood circulation, strengthen muscles, bones, and connective tissues and relieve stress to some degree.  Although a formal fitness plan including the “trifecta” of strength training, aerobic activity, and flexibility/balance work would be an ideal solution, any sort of regular movement is better than sitting still.  Dancing, gardening, housework, running errands, or simple walking all have health benefits and specifically, can help prevent, delay, or treat arthritis.
            Both yoga and tai chi are well recognized for helping to treat arthritic symptoms.  If already suffering from arthritic symptoms, approach exercise gently, so as not to aggravate tender joints.
            A study co-authored by Paul Lam, M.D. and featured in the Journal of Rheumatology showed that tai chi could decrease joint pain by as much as 33% in three months as well as significantly increase strength, flexibility, and balance during that same time period.  Tai chi is well known for its ability to improve blood circulation throughout the body, including the joints, and the flowing, gentle exercise is “low-impact” to “no-impact”, thereby sparing connective tissue from additional strain.
            •  Boston University studies show that the more leafy greens you eat, the lower your risk of ever developing arthritis.  Also, if you already suffer from arthritic symptoms, consumption of leafy greens will slow progression of the disease.  The nutrients copper, manganese, and vitamin K are found generously in leafy greens; these nutrients are particularly helpful to the process of strengthening and healing cartilage.  Research indicates eating one heaping cup of leafy greens daily could improve joint strength and flexibility by about 30% in a two-month period.
            •  Be sure to add avocados to those leafy green salads!  British studies suggest eating three avocados weekly could make your joints feel about 40% more limber.  Avocados are naturally rich in oleic acid, a type of fat thought to be responsible for tamping down the production of certain joint stiffening hormones.
            •  Enjoy tropical fruits year-round to assist with arthritis related issues.  Mangoes, papayas, and pineapples are your “go to” fruits.  Mangoes and papayas feature an orange-colored pigment called beta-cryptoxanthin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory that also speeds up the healing of damaged cartilage.  British research indicates eating three cups of mango and/or papaya weekly can significantly reduce arthritis symptoms.  Fresh or frozen fruit will work.
            Pineapples are naturally rich in the enzyme, bromelain.  This enzyme is an excellent anti-inflammatory, known to aid with arthritis related issues.  Fresh pineapple is best because the extreme temperatures of freezing or canning can break down the pineapple’s enzymes.
            Bromelain is also available in pill form as a dietary supplement and can be purchased from health food stores.
            •  Don’t forget about herbal remedies as potential aids to combating arthritis.  Boswellia (also known as Indian frankincense) has recently been in the news for working as well as aspirin for reducing joint pain.  Boswellia blocks the formation of cytokines, which are substances that trigger inflammation and pain in the body.  These study results were published in the journal, Phytomedicine.  Another perk of boswellia is its immune-boosting properties, which can help reduce the time to kick a virus by as much as four days, according to earlier study results on boswellia.
            •  Another promising herbal helper in the fight against arthritis symptoms is devil’s claw.  Devil’s claw is a desert plant whose active ingredient, harpogoside, has been shown to relax muscle spasms and calm irritated pain nerves.  British research indicates that taking 1,200 mg. of devil’s claw reduced joint and muscle pain in 75% of study participants within four weeks of regular use.
            •  Holy basil, an age old remedy in Ayurvedic medicine, has been in three studies, all of which point to drastic reductions in pain, swelling, and stiffness among study subjects with 30 days of consistent use.  Studies suggest a 300 mg. to 500 mg. daily dose is effective.  Holy basil features two pain-killing compounds, called rosmarinic acid and eugenol, which are believed to be the active ingredients in promoting relief from arthritic symptoms.
            •  Turmeric, whose active ingredient is curcumin, is a well-known and well-respected anti-inflammatory agent, as well as a popular seasoning for food.  Turmeric is well tolerated by most people and is available in pill form as well as a powered seasoning variety.  Concentrated types of the active ingredient, curcumin, are also available as pills from health food stores.
            Turmeric is widely regarded for its ability to help with many forms of chronic pain and inflammation, including arthritic conditions.
            •  Before trying any of the aforementioned herbs, talk to your doctor about any possible contraindications resulting from your prescription medicines or personal health conditions.  If you get the “Okay,” from your doctor, always start with a small amount of the herb – just to be sure it agrees with your system – before taking an “effective dose”.
            •  Three other substances which are widely available and have a good track record of assisting with arthritic problems are glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and “MSM”, or methylsulfonylmethane.  These substances are important for joint and connective tissue strengthening and repair.  MSM also helps to reduce inflammation in arthritic tissues.
            The above three substances are generally well tolerated by most people; however, they can have toxic effects for certain people with particular conditions.  Therefore, check with your doctor before taking them.
            Also, there are mixed results for the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates and MSM.  Some arthritis sufferers and medical studies describe excellent results from these three substances.  Other study results and individual types of patients claim little to no benefit.  For example, patients with hip osteoarthritis in various studies did not seem to benefit from taking these substances.
            •  When considering how to improve joint and connective tissue health, don’t forget the importance of vitamin D, which is critical to bone formation in general and vitamin D also improves the function of the immune system, so that it is less likely to malfunction and attack the body’s joint tissue.  Research results described in the journal, Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology, show that 20 minutes of “non-sunscreen” sunshine on the skin can relieve joint pain and stiffness by about half or a little more.  Indoor types or the “high risk” skin cancer person may prefer to take vitamin D supplements and/or eat vitamin D rich foods.  However you choose to get vitamin D, be sure to “bone up” on the nutrient.  It can help bone and joint health in so many ways.

            Arthritis is a multi-faceted disease that takes many forms. Hopefully, you’re now armed with enough lifestyle, diet, and supplement tips to get you started on a better and more pain free future.  There are many weapons to use against the crippling pain and stiffness of arthritis.  Let’s go forth well armed against this devastating disease.   

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