As we age, nagging pain in the joints is an all-too-common complaint. And too many physicians seem to go for the "quick fix." According to a study published in Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology, doctors frequently ignore medical guidelines that recommend exercise and weight control as the first line of treatment for osteoarthritis. Instead, they overprescribe drugs and surgery-which may treat the symptoms, but fail to address the underlying causes.
In fact, the state of our joints depends largely on how we move and whether our diet feeds and protects joint tissue, or promotes problems. "Joint health is in a state of deterioration nationwide, not necessarily because we're aging but because of how we're aging," says Christina Lasich, MD, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation in Grass Valley, Calif. Our lifestyle, she says, places a lot of repetitive stress on certain joints, which leads to pain.
Key offenders that tax the neck and back include carrying heavy shoulder bags, sitting at a desk, reaching for things, and using a computer. To prevent repetitive stress injury, says Lasich, keep your bags light, organize your work area so that frequently used items are within easy reach, keep your computer monitor at eye level, and use arm rests.
For women, Lasich also recommends avoiding high-heeled shoes that stress the big-toe joint. And for both women and men, she suggests investing a few minutes each day in Joint Health Savers exercises. (For more about these simple but powerful research-based exercises, visit betternutrition.com.)
Diet is also important to joint health. "Your body has the ability to control inflammation as long as you eat properly," says Lasich. However, bad foods rob us of that ability, setting the stage for pain.
For healthy joints, she recommends eating foods such as wild salmon that are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids; choosing low-glycemic, unrefined carbohydrates, especially plenty of fruits and vegetables; and cutting back on red meat.
It may also be a good idea to avoid gluten, lactose, and nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers-all of which can trigger inflammation in people with sensitivities. Caffeine also sometimes triggers or amplifies pain.
To fill nutritional gaps, Lasich suggests taking a multivitamin with 500-1,000 mg vitamin C, 4-5 mg manganese, and 2-3 mg copper daily, as well as extra vitamin D (up to 2,000 IU per day unless your doctor tells you otherwise). And if you already have joint problems, she advises supplements that help ease pain and promote joint health.
Exercises for Joint Health
Christina Lasich, MD, suggests these daily exercises to help keep your joints in tip-top shape. If they don't seem to help, find a physical therapist through the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (www.aaompt.org), as poor posture and incorrect movement may be sabotaging your efforts. Or, ask an AAOMPT member for a referral to a knowledgeable fitness trainer in your area.
Strengthen shoulder muscles.
To reduce injury to the neck and back, stand and let your arms hang naturally by your sides. Shrug and relax your shoulders repeatedly until your shoulder muscles feel fatigued. Take a short break and do it again. As you get stronger, put a resistance band under your feet and hold the ends as you shrug to challenge shoulder muscles.
Strengthen upper-back muscles.
To reduce droopy shoulders that predispose you to pain, row an imaginary boat, squeezing the shoulder blades together, until the muscles feel fatigued. Take a break and do it again. As you progress, challenge muscles by holding onto a resistance band that's hooked to a door handle or railing.
To protect ankles, knees, hips, and the lower back against stress from imbalanced movement and poor posture, practice standing on one leg, activating your buttock muscles, in front of a mirror. Hold onto something if needed, but keep your belt line parallel to the ground-that's the most important thing-and hold your balance as long as you can. Repeat with the other leg. If this is too difficult, try doing the exercise in a swimming pool to start with. If it's too easy, do it with your eyes closed, and then progress to standing on a pillow. But most importantly, maintain perfect posture while balancing.
Supplements for Osteoarthritis
According to Jay Udani, MD, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine and CEO of Medicus Research, you can expect three types of benefits from joint-supporting supplements:
1. Reduced Inflammation
Supplements can help reduce or stop what Udani calls an "inflammatory cascade" generated by earlier joint trauma-such as sports injuries-and/or repetitive micro trauma. This cascade is a self-perpetuating cycle that involves a variety of inflammatory substances in our bodies. Supplements shown to be strong anti-inflammatories include Celadrin, a proprietary form of fatty acids; i-flex, a proprietary form of rose hips; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish oil; and herbs such as turmeric, ginger, and boswellia.
2. Healthier Joint Structure
"Once you reduce inflammation," says Udani, "you can rebuild the cartilage surface." Glucosamine, sometimes in combination with chondroitin, has been widely studied and used for well over a decade to repair and protect cartilage in joints. Chondroitin-along with hyaluronic acid and collagen, which help lubricate joint tissues-is naturally present in a proprietary form of eggshell supplement, NEM (Natural Eggshell Membrane).
3. Relief from Discomfort
Topical remedies, such as Celadrin cream, Tiger Balm, and capsaicin creams, offer fast-acting relief for injury-related or chronic joint pain. "They temporarily reduce discomfort," says Udani. Capsaicin cream, for example, temporarily blocks pain signals from nerve endings. It should be used four times daily for 3-4 days, then once or twice daily thereafter to have a continuous effect.
Reduce Inflammation, Fast Pain Relief, Repair and Protect Cartilage in Joints
For optimum benefits, Udani recommends a combination of supplements that together provide benefits in all three areas. An example would be topical cream for fast pain relief; Celadrin, i-flex, or an herbal formula to control inflammation; and NEM or glucosamine to restore joint structure.
And don't give up if you don't see immediate results. Compared to pharmaceuticals that may have unwanted side effects (such as increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding with ibuprofen, aspirin, and prescription anti-inflammatories), oral joint supplements may take from 3-6 months to show a benefit. That's because these natural substances work to remedy underlying conditions-such as inflammation and cartilage degradation-rather than just masking symptoms. "Be patient," says Udani. "Most studies have shown results after several weeks."
Improving bone health also supports joint health-and vice versa.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a condition marked by low bone mineral density, it's not enough to just pop some calcium. You need to determine what's causing your bones to thin, says R. Keith McCormick, DC, author of The Whole Body Approach to Osteoporosis. This may require a few tests, since a number of factors-including nutrient deficiencies, digestive troubles, bone-sapping medications, genetics, and conditions such as hyperthyroidism-can cause bones to weaken.
For healthy bones, calcium is important, but so too are numerous other nutrients. McCormick recommends four basic supplements as the core of your bone improvement plan:
- A high-quality multivitamin for overall nutritional support.
- A bone-support supplement providing 1,000-1,200 mg/day of calcium and 500-600 mg/day of magnesium (may also contain vitamin K, vitamin D, boron, silica, and strontium). McCormick advises avoiding supplements that contain calcium carbonate, which is a less beneficial form of the mineral.
- Probiotics containing 3 billion to 20 billion viable cells of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which promote optimal digestive functioning and reduce systemic inflammation.
- Fish oil, 2-3 grams per day, to supply omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation and bone loss.
- Kathleen Engel
Osteoarthritis Supplement List
When sifting through supplement research, it's important to pay attention to the specifics. Especially when it comes to proprietary formulas. Jay Udani, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, cautions that when a study tests a proprietary formulation, there is no "generic equivalent"-meaning that other formulations of the same nutrient aren't identical and may not deliver the same result. For example, cetyl myristoleate is one of several fatty acids found in Celadrin. One can't assume that published studies documenting the benefits of Celadrin would apply to all formulations containing cetyl myristoleate. Here are some research highlights that show the joint benefits of specific supplements.
A review of studies published in Practical Pain Management found that low levels of vitamin D correspond with higher incidence of back, joint, and other types of chronic pain, and recommended a total intake of 2,400-2,800 IU daily from all sources. Vitamin D levels can be checked by your doctor, and if very low, may require temporary high-dose supplements by prescription.
In a study of 43 arthritis patients, a daily regimen of fish oil paired with olive oil helped reduce morning stiffness and improve hand dexterity after 24 weeks. Other studies have found that lower doses of anti-inflammatory medications were required for those who take fish oil supplements. Daily dosages: 3 g of EPA/DHA from fish oil; 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
Also known as LitoZin in Europe, this proprietary formulation reduced pain in nearly 300 people with osteoarthritis, according to a review of studies published in Osteoarthritis Cartilage. In another study, published in Phytomedicine, i-flex reduced pain among 89 rheumatoid arthritis patients. Test-tube studies show that it may also help regenerate cartilage. Daily dosage: 5 g.
Several studies, including those published in the Journal of Rheumatology and the Journal of Strength & Conditioning, have found that Celadrin supplements can reduce inflammation, enhance the structure of cell membranes, reduce pain, and improve joint function, with relief beginning after about two weeks of supplementation and increasing with prolonged use. Topical Celadrin cream typically begins to relieve pain in about 30 minutes. Daily oral supplement dosage: 1,000 mg.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Studies have shown that glucosamine, alone or in combination with chondroitin, relieves pain and improves joint function; slows cartilage breakdown and stimulates its growth; and reduces the necessity of joint surgery with long-term use. Results have been published in various journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine. A study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy found that daily walking combined with glucosamine produced better results than the supplement alone. Daily dosages: 1,500 mg glucosamine; 800-1,200 mg chondroitin.
NEM (Natural Eggshell Membrane)
In studies published in Clinical Rheumatology and Clinical Interventions in Aging, this proprietary formulation was found to reduce both pain and stiffness among people with osteoarthritis and other disorders of the joints and connective tissues. Benefits began to manifest after as little as 10 days of supplementation. Daily dosage: 500 mg.
Absorb More Calcium
Looking for a good all-in-one calcium supplement? Try Lane Labs AdvaCAL 1000. This complete formula has 500 mg of calcium (as calcium hydroxide and oxide) and 500 IUs of vitamin D3 per serving. Three capsules daily is a serving.
A recent study published in the journal Nutrient found that postmenopausal women absorbed 57 percent more calcium from AdvaCAL calcium than from calcium carbonate when both minerals were taken with food. This is important because postmenopausal women are at the highest risk for bone loss.
- Topical Biomedics topricin is an anti-inflammatory pain relief cream that helps stimulate healing with arnica and several other homeopathic remedies. It can be used for all types of pain-from arthritis to carpal tunnel.
- Membrell JointHealth features Natural Eggshell Membrane or NEM, which has been clinically shown to improve joint health, comfort and flexibility. One capsule is all you need per day.
- New Chapter Zyflamend is a top-selling supplement for inflammation. Herbs such as turmeric, ginger, and rosemary help promote a healthy inflammation response, while also enhancing joint function.
- Natural Factors Osteomove extra strength joint care is a high-quality joint formula with all the key joint nutrients: glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, boswellia, collagen, turmeric, and a fruit polyphenol complex.