Arthritis is one of the most common joint diseases in the world – it severely compromises the quality of life of thousands of people everywhere. The word, which means joint inflammation, is used as an umbrella term for a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders, most notably osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Is there anything you can do to help cut your risk of becoming arthritic? The answer is: probably.
Types of arthritis
Arthritis – inflamed joints – is caused by factors that range from genetics and joint injuries to age-related changes in the enzymes that protect your cartilage. The word is generally used to describe most musculoskeletal disorders.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis and is caused by wear and tear on the body. Constant use eventually causes damage to the cartilage within your joints and loss of the fluids that lubricate and cushion them. The symptoms usually develop gradually and include sore, stiff and deformed joints, and pain in the hips, spine, knees and fingers.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that affects about one percent of the South African population, although there are no accurate prevalence figures for this country. A type of autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of your joints and other parts of the body. The symptoms range from pain and fatigue to swelling, stiffness and aches in the joints – especially of the hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly begins affecting women between 25 and 50 years old, but it can affect men and women of any age.
10 ways to help ward off arthritis
Most articles on arthritis recommend drugs rather than natural treatments to ease pain and inflammation. The most common of the prescribed drugs inhibit an inflammatory chemical known as cyclooxygenase, thereby relieving the symptoms of inflammation and pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen work this way. But NSAIDs have side effects – for example, they deplete the very nutrients necessary for joint repair, including iron, folic acid and zinc.
But there’s no need for despair. Your older years are not destined to be dominated by joint deformity and an inability to move around smoothly. Take action now! Help protect your joints with these 10 simple lifestyle changes:
Lose weight – Excess weight around your abdomen, hips, rear end and thighs places unnecessary pressure on your joints. With every step, your knees, ankles and hips take extra strain. Researchers in Australia have shown that losing just five kilograms can cut your risk of developing arthritis in the next 10 years by a joint-relieving 50 percent.
Exercise for at least one hour every week – It’s not vigorous exercise in your youth that causes arthritis in later years, but injury to your joints. In fact, exercising increases muscle strength, which in turns helps to support both your bones and joints. In another Australian study, middle-aged or older women who exercised for at least 2.5 hours every week were shown to have a 40 percent lower chance of developing arthritic joints than their less active counterparts.
Unlike high-impact aerobics, yoga strengthens your core, bones and joints without placing undue strain on the body.
Improve your strength with weights – Resistance training (using light weights, rubber exercise bands or your own body) may protect your joints against damage. For example, knee bends improve thigh muscles and help reduce your chance of getting arthritis in the knees and hips. People who suffer with arthritis also benefit from gentle exercise. A study completed at the US Tufts University indicated that people with osteoarthritis in the knees who exercised gently for 16 weeks experienced 30-plus percent less pain and almost 40 percent less disability. The long and short of it is, get moving.
Don’t smoke – Smoking can double your risk of osteoarthritis, so say a group of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In their 2012 study of 34,000 women, even light smoking (up to seven cigarettes a day) directly increased the risk for developing arthritis.
Top up your vitamin D – Low levels of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin could trigger arthritis. Use supplements if you don’t get the opportunity to venture outdoors, and eat liver, oily fish and other seafoods.
Eat the red, orange, green and blue – These brightly coloured foods are generally packed with anti-oxidants, which nuke the free radical molecules that can play havoc with cartilage repair. A diet rich in red, yellow, green and blue fruits and vegetables can cut your risk of developing painful joints by 50 percent. Eat like the Mediterraneans, whose diet is low in red meat and dairy products and who have a 56 percent lower incidence of arthritis symptoms than people who consume lots of meat and milk products.
Increase your intake of omega-3 oils – Eating plenty of good-quality animal-based omega-3 fats helps alter the balance of the body’s chemistry to reduce inflammation.
Add turmeric – Research published in 2012 showed that curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has potent anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties. Turmeric and turmeric supplements were found to profound reduce joint inflammation and destruction. Try Flora Force Turmerynne™ – it’s excellent for pain relief.
Eliminate sugar – Sugar increases your insulin levels, which is the root cause of nearly all chronic disease. It can also impair your gut bacteria. Replacing fizzy cooldrinks with water is a good place to start.
Create a healthy gut – Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and yoghurt help to establish a healthy intestinal environment.
NOTE: There are many underlying conditions that can cause arthritis. Seek help from your healthcare practitioner to establish if and what kind of joint disease you have before embarking on any treatment or exercise plan.
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
A variety of medical articles and books were consulted while researching this article, including material compiled by US Dr Joseph Mercola.