Optimizing Health Part 18: Joint Health
Arthritis is a real pain in the joints — and nearly 30 million Americans have to deal with it.
27 million of us deal with pain and stiffness from the wear-and-tear of osteoarthritis, where the cartilage that covers and cushions the ends of your bones becomes thin or disappears, and your bones rub together and hurt.
Another 2.5 million endure the red, hot, swollen and painful joints of rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to mistakenly identify your cartilage and bones as foreign invaders (like viruses) — and attack them.
Arthritis isn't an "equal opportunity annoyer." It picks on seniors (65% of people over 65 have osteoarthritis) and on women (7 out of 10 people with rheumatoid arthritis). With so many folks afflicted, you'd think modern medicine would offer some good, safe solutions for arthritis pain. Think again.
The most common class of pain-relieving drugs — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — hospitalizes more than 100,000 Americans a year from bleeding ulcers, and kills more than 16,500!
Adding joint insult to digestive injury, NSAIDs don't slow the progression of arthritis — and may even speed it up!
The best advice? Take steps to optimize joint health, so you can minimize the chances of developing joint problems in the first place. And there are three easy ways to do just that.
Joint-Optimizer #1: Feed Your Joints
There are several nutrients and natural compounds that are uniquely effective for promoting healthy joints.
Glucosamine Sulfate: Feeding Your Cartilage
Glucosamine is a component of cartilage. When you take a glucosamine-containing supplement, the compound is incorporated into your cartilage molecules, which helps repair joints and reduce the pain that can result from overuse. I recommend the sulfate form (not glucosamine hydrochloride), because sulfate also promotes healthy joint function. The standard dose is 750 milligrams, 2 times daily, taken with or without food.
After 6 months, you may find that you don't need to take the supplement daily; at that point, you may choose to take it only when your joints feel like they need help.
Chondroitin Sulfate: More Cartilage Support
This compound also helps create, maintain and repair cartilage. One downside is that only 10% is absorbed. To improve absorption, use the "low molecular weight" form of chondroitin. (Look for those words on the label.) The standard dose is 400 mg three times daily, or 1,200 in a single dose.
MSM: Sulfur, a Surprisingly Important Nutrient
MSM is an abbreviation for methylsulfonylmethane, a sulfur-containing compound that gives your proteins a key building block needed for tissue repair. Research show that MSM, chondroitin and glucosamine work well together. It is reasonable to take all 3 of these daily for the first 6 to 12 weeks after you begin the regimen. This will lay a solid nutritional foundation from which you can begin to maintain healthy joint function. After that, you can scale back to a lower dose.
For Nutritional Insurance, Take a Good General-Purpose Supplement
Dozens of other nutrients are also helpful to promoting healthy joint function — like B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, boron and zinc.
Joint-Optimizer #2: Balance Immune Function
Curcumin and boswellia are two herbs that are particularly good at promoting a healthy and balanced immune system.
These can be found in a number of good herbal mixes. Both curcumin and boswellia are provided in the supplement Healthy Knees and Joints. Another excellent product that contains a highly absorbable form of curcumin is Curamin. Yet another herbal formula, End Pain, contains boswellia and willow bark (the herbal granddaddy of aspirin). The End Pain can be taken along with either the Curamin or Healthy Knees and Joints. Allow 6 weeks to see the full effect. You'll be glad you did!
Another powerful immune regulator is fish oil. You can eat fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout or mackerel a few times a week, or take a fish oil supplement. I favor Vectomega (from EuroPharma) because it supplies the same amount of immune balancing omega-3's in one pill that are typically found in 8 large regular fish oil caps from other manufacturers. This not only saves a lot of money, but allows you to say goodbye to fish oil burps!
Joint-Optimizer #3: Use Them or Lose Them
If you want to maintain flexible, healthy joints, you need to use them the way nature intended. Namely, you need to MOVE them!
I suggest exercising at least 20 minutes daily. Go for a walk outdoors (also great for boosting levels of vitamin D, which supports healthy muscles and joints). Swim or exercise in a heated pool (the buoyancy and warmth make this an ideal exercise for joints that need a helping hand). Yoga, tai chi or any other form of stretching are also good.
Important: Pain is your body's way of saying "Don't do that!" So if you feel unusual pain while exercising, STOP and DON'T try to push through it.
Heat and Stretch
A great way to improve flexibility: use a heating pad or any other kind of moist heat for 5 to 15 minutes on an affected joint, then slowly and gently move the bothered joint, gradually reclaiming your full range of motion.
For joints in your hands, try the herbal-filled "bean bags" you can heat up in the microwave, putting them on your hands. After 5 to 15 minutes, gently stretch your fingers.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is one of the world's leading integrative medical authorities on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. He is the lead author of eight research studies on their effective treatments, and has published numerous health & wellness books, including the bestseller on fibromyalgia From Fatigued to Fantastic! and The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution. Dr. Teitelbaum is one of the most frequently quoted fibromyalgia experts in the world and appears often as a guest on news and talk shows nationwide including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, Oprah & Friends, CNN, and Fox News Health.