MOST INDIVIDUALS over 40 will have suffered from joint pain at some time in their life. For some, it is an occasional problem that readily settles on its own or only needs a simple temporary pain reliever.
For others, it is a chronic burden that creates a dependency on increasing doses of potentially dangerous drugs. Painful joints can also severely impact a person's ability to function normally and in the elderly is the number one cause of loss of mobility and independent living.
By definition, arthritis is an inflammation of a joint, and a joint is a structure where the ends of two or more bones meet and move. Joint pain is a common result of arthritis or inflammation of the joints and the classical signs of inflammation include pain, swelling, heat and loss of function.
The commonest causes of arthritis are joint injury (traumatic arthritis), joint degeneration (osteoarthritis) or autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis). Gout causes a special form of arthritis due to the excess of a substance called uric acid in the body.
Two special tissues called ligaments and cartilage provide joints with both the stability and cushioning they require for their function. These tissues are made up of special proteins like collagen and elastin, plus a protein complex called proteoglycans. Suffice it to say that in arthritis the joint structures (cartilage and ligaments) are damaged and inflamed and these special proteins destroyed.
A vast array of anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to simply suppress the symptoms of arthritis. These drugs may be effective in easing the pain or reducing the swelling, but they do not deal with the underlying problem, they only control the symptoms. What is worse, they have major side effects, especially when taken for prolonged periods: your stomach might develop bleeding ulcers, your kidneys may be damaged or you may end up with diabetes and high blood pressure.
The good news is that you can assist your body to control, reverse and even prevent inflammation of the joints.
Eat anti-inflammatory Foods
Some foods promote inflammation while others relieve and discourse it. The following foods should be avoided: Unhealthy fats as in red meat, hydrogenated oils and fried foods. Organ meats like liver and kidney and dairy products. Processed carbohydrates like white rice, pasta and refined flour products like dumplings, crackers, white bread, sugar, very sweet fruits, fruit juices, food flavourings, preservatives and artificial food colourings.
Emphasise these foods: fatty cold water fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna. Healthy oils like virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and olives, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, ackees and avocados. Fresh vegetables and fruit like berries, melons, pineapple and papaya plus nuts, seeds and whole grain.
It is essential to correct obesity as it promotes inflammation and aggravates the damage to weight-bearing joints.
Cleanse and detoxify
Infection promotes inflammation. Look out for and clear up any sites of chronic infection in the body. Pay particular attention to the mouth (teeth and gums), the sinuses, the nails (fungal infections) and the skin. Treating any chronic infection may need the assistance of your medical practitioner. Natural detoxification programmes using herbs, colonic irrigation, saunas, massage and liquid fasts are very useful and may be used at regular intervals.
Some supplements have good anti-inflammatory, pain relieving effects. These include the omega-3 fatty acids at dosages of three to six grammes per day.
The antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and selenium, and the herbs, ginger, nettle leaf extract, boswellia and curcumin.
Other supplements specifically provide the body with building material to repair damaged cartilage and ligaments. These include glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, SAMe, high doses of vitamin C and the minerals copper, zinc, manganese and boron. These need to be taken in adequate doses for at lease 12 weeks for significant benefit.
Healthy joints need to be both strong and supple and regular exercise is a key to achieving both. Also, specifically strengthening the muscles that move a joint improves the stability of the joint and reduces further injury to the cartilage of that joint.
Resistance exercises (strength training) seem to be the best form of physical activity to stimulate new growth and correctly align the collagen fibres in the newly forming tissue (ligaments and cartilages) of the recovering joint.
These exercises should be started slowly and when the joint is almost free of pain. A programme supervised by a physiotherapist can be very helpful in this regard and may, in addition to specific exercises, include heat or cold, massage and stretching. Some yoga postures are excellent for arthritic joints, as these types of resistance exercises do not require movement of the joint. Other useful non-weight bearing exercises include bicycling, swimming and water aerobics.
Chronic stress, poorly managed produces chemical imbalances in the body that promote inflammation. Learning to identify the stressors in one's life and developing effective stress management techniques are important aspects of a programme for controlling joint inflammation.
Develop an emotional and spiritual support system as healthy relationships, prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices can greatly facilitate the healing process.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at email@example.com or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women' is available locally and on the Internet.