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Slow down joint wear and tear naturally

Published:Wednesday | April 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Osteoarthritis is a painful disease which results from breakdown of cartilage, the strong rubbery material which cushions the ends of the bones. This breakdown causes friction in joints as bone ends no longer glide across each other. The affected joints become painful when moved; movement becomes limited and we experience swelling, warmth, burning, stiffness and even joint deformity.

The most commonly affected joints are in the neck, lower back, hips, knees and fingers. Hips, knees and ankles in overweight people are likely to suffer, especially when they jog. Many who develop osteo-arthritis of the knee have been overweight for years.

Treatment is aimed at managing or eliminating pain and discomfort, and slowing down the deterioration of joints. Prescription and over-the-counter medication have been used for many years to treat osteoarthritis. Surgery may involve replacing the joint (usually hip or knee) with artificial parts or cutting and resetting bones. However, medication and surgery are not the only measures. Here are some other measures:

See a physiotherapist

Rest is therapy for painful joints but too much is as bad as too little. Exercise is beneficial, as joints become stronger and more flexible. You may injure yourself if you exercise incorrectly. A physiotherapist should design the appropriate exercise programme and may also recommend pain-relieving cooling and heating methods for the joint.

If you have symptoms of osteo-arthritis, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. If you decide to take any vitamin/mineral or herbal supplement, first consult your doctor or pharmacist. Unlike fast-acting pain medication, supplements may render improvement in the joints after several weeks. Evidence suggests that the careful use of supplements is helpful in preserving and improving joint function.

Glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin sulphate have been used by veterinarians for years to fight arthritis in racehorses and dogs. They are now hugely popular for us. They appear to slow the progression of osteoarthritis, decrease cartilage loss, pain and inflammation and improve joint function. Glucosamine supplement commonly comes from shrimp, crab or lobster shells.

Chondroitin supplement is commonly made from the by-products of pork or the windpipe of cattle. Those who are allergic to shellfish and sulphur should avoid glucosamine and chondroitin. Dosage is important here (glucosamine, 500mg three times daily, chondroitin, 400mg three times daily).

Omega-3 fatty acids (which are most concentrated in fish oil) decrease the breakdown of cartilage. Adults may take 3,000mg per day.

Cod liver oil, because of its high vitamin A and D content, is supportive to arthritic joints. Some branded joint, care products contain glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 and cod liver oil in a single product!

Vitamin E (400-600 international units daily) and vitamin C are helpful.

Selenium is a mineral which increases the effectiveness of vitamin E. A dose of 200 micrograms daily is recommended for adults.

Boron is not popular but appears to be effective in regulating calcium and magnesium levels in the bones, relieving inflammation in osteoarthritis.

Dahlia McDaniel is a pharma-cist and final-year doctoral candidate in public health at the University of London; email: