- Understanding arthritis
Arthritis is often referred to as a single disease, but is in fact an over-arching term for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically the joints.
Arthritis-related problems include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones, enabling them to move against each another) and surrounding structures. This can result in joint weakness, instability and deformities that can interfere with the most basic daily tasks such as walking, driving a car and preparing food.
The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, with symptoms of each being similar, but subtley different.
- Symptoms of osteoarthritis may include joint pain and progressive stiffness that develops gradually
- Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include painful swelling, inflammation, and stiffness in the fingers, arms, legs, and wrists occurring in the same joints on both sides of the body, especially upon awakening
Other forms include:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Juvenile arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
It is commonly believed that arthritis is just part of getting older, but it is important to know that this is notthe case. In fact 2.4 million of all people suffering from the disease are of working age.
Research suggests that early intervention can delay the onset of the disease and may reduce the number of cases of osteoarthritis by about 500,000 within 15 years.
Simple ways to protect your joints
Arthritis relief doesn't always have to come from a bottle. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating the right foods (see our page on inflammation reducing foods), exercising, and using support devices (where needed) to help you get around can also have a big impact on your symptoms.
Losing weight if you are overweight or obese can help take pressure off your joints.
People with gout should avoid alcohol and foods that are high in purines - organ meats (liver, kidney), dried beans, sardines, anchovies, asparagus, and mushrooms. When the body breaks down purines, it produces uric acid, and excess uric acid causes painful crystals to deposit in the joints. Making these changes may reduce flare-ups, but they almost never cure the condition.
Relieving stiff joints with exercise
When you're in pain, the last thing you may want to do is exercise, but it's actually one of the best things you can do for your joints. Aerobic, strength-training, and stretching exercises can all be helpful. Work with your doctor to learn what exercises are safe for you to do. Physical therapy is also a common part of treatment in people with osteoarthritis. Regular exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
Consult with a physiotherapist or personal trainer to ensure you are doing suitable exercise for your condition.
Supplements to ease the pain and inflammation
Fish oil: reduces inflammation, relieves joint pain and stiffness
Dose: up to 3g of combination EPA/DHA in divided doses after food
Glucosamine and chondroitin: believed to help draw water and nutrients into the cartilage, keeping it spongy and healthy
Helps to relieve pain and prevent or slow the breakdown of cartilage
Dose: Glucosamine sulfate - up to 1500mg per day; Chondroitin – up to 1000mg per day
Cautions/contraindications: consult with your GP or other healthcare practitioner if taking blood thinners, are about to have surgery, are pregnant or have diabetes.
Curcumin (tumeric): reduces pain, inflammation and stiffness. Known to block important markers within the inflammatory pathways and modify the immune system responses to pain.
Dose: 400 – 600 mg up to 3 x per day
Curcumin makes up only about 5% of turmeric, so be sure to check the standardised extract in supplements
Cautions/contraindications: consult with your GP or other healthcare practitioner if taking blood thinners, are about to have surgery, are pregnant or have gallbladder disease
Ginger: contains anti-inflammatory compounds, which are thought to inhibit the pro-inflammatory enzyme COX2
Dose: up to 500mg per day in divided doses
Cautions/contraindications: consult with your GP or other healthcare practitioner if taking blood thinners, or are about to have surgery
Green-lipped mussel: known to contain anti-inflammatory properties that are important for maintaining joint cell structure and function
Dose: up to 1,150mg per day in divided doses
Vitamins A, C, E: known for their antioxidant activities, they can override harmful molecules produced in your cells which may cause tissue damage or disease
Dose: Vit A – no more than 50,000 IU per day ; Vit C – up to 1g per day in divided doses after food; Vit E – max of 400mg per day
Vitamin B complex: specifically vitamins B3, B9 and B12 have benefits in improving joint mobility and grip strength. B12 plays a role in controlling bone metabolism. B6 is thought to reduce inflammation and B5 is good for reducing swelling. The B’s work at their best when taken together
Dose: take 1 capsule per day of a good activated B complex