How to Decrease Your Chances of Getting Arthritis
Arthritis is a painful disease. Unfortunately, it is a part of the aging process, so most of us will suffer with it at some point in our lives. Some people, like myself, develop arthritis early in life, usually through some type of injury, or repetitive movement. Others may inherit the disease.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis. The majority of these are fairly rare. Only about 12 of them commonly occur in the general population. Some of the most common types are:
- Degenerative Joint Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjogren's syndrome
The term arthritis comes from the Greek arthro meaning “joint,” and –itis, which means inflammation. It is essentially inflammation of the joints, which are those bendable parts of our body like the knees, elbows, hips, and shoulders among others.
These joints are surrounded by tough, yet flexible connective tissue as well as ligaments and muscles that hold the bones together and allow us to move. Many of the joints like the knees, hips and ankles are put under tremendous force every day. This pressure is exacerbated by various activities, such as high impact aerobics, and obesity.
Osteoarthritis of the Hand
Different types of arthritis affect different tissues surrounding the joints.
For example, osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease, specifically affects the ends of the bones, the part which makes the connection of the joint and is composed of mainly cartilage (see illustration below).
The bones are separated by a cavity filled with liquid called synovial fluid. This is essentially the oil that keeps the hinge gliding smoothly and prevents friction. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage at the end of the bone begins to breakdown, causing inflammation.
Arthritic inflammation can be caused by damage to the joint itself, or the surrounding tissues. This can be caused by a number of different things, most notably traumatic injury (either to the joint or the muscles), normal wear and tear on the joints (in the case of aging) or excessive wear and tear caused by obesity.
Heredity can also play an important role in the onset of arthritis. Although, it should be noted that joint pain can often be a sign of other systemic diseases such as hepatitis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, Lyme disease, and even psoriasis.
Anatomy of a Joint
Symptoms of Arthritis
There is a common set of symptoms for arthritis, regardless of what type it is. Some of those symptoms include:
- Muscle aches and pains that occur regularly or are constant
- Muscle weakness
- Malaise (an indefinite feeling of debility)
- Weight loss
- Inability to sleep (insomnia), or poor quality sleep
- Difficulty moving the joints
- Joint pain, even when not moving
- Cracking of joints after sitting for long periods (especially the hip and knees)
These symptoms can vary in intensity, and duration. Some people may have every symptom, others may have just one or two. Arthritis affects everyone differently.
Osteoarthritis in a Left Knee
The Nutritional Link to Arthritis
Our joints are extraordinary devices. They are constantly subjected to wear and tear and continue to function, but like anything else they tend to breakdown after a while.
Think of an older car (mine’s a good example). My car has close to 200,000 miles on it, and was manufactured in 1996, so in car time, it’s about 65 years old (around there anyway). It squeaks, and makes all kinds of weird noises, and doesn’t run as well as a brand new car. But, because I’ve kept up with the maintenance and only put synthetic oil in it, it runs surprisingly well for its age.
The same applies to our bodies. If we take care of the maintenance (exercise) and only put synthetic oil in it (a well-balanced diet) it’s going to run surprisingly well after a few 100,000 miles. While arthritis can’t be completely prevented, especially traumatic arthritis (unless you plan to live in a bubble), there are ways to prevent getting the disorder prematurely. Nutrition is one of the main preventative treatments.
Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Hand
Poor diet and a lack of vitamins and minerals can wreak havoc on the body. In people who eat meat, especially a lot of it, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis can be a major problem. Why? Glad you asked.
Animal products, especially red meats and milk, cause an acidic pH in the body. To neutralize this acidic state, the body uses up its most readily available antacid: calcium. Where does the calcium come from? The body strips it from the bones, which allows osteoporosis and osteoarthritis to set in because the bones are weakened.
While I highly recommend veganism and vegetarianism, I know it’s not an option for many people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prevent the acidic pH. Limiting how much meat and dairy you consume to no more than three times a week can go a long way. Taking extra calcium supplements (NOT by increasing your intake of milk) will also help alleviate the risk of an acidic pH.
Vitamins and Supplements for Arthritis
I’m a huge health nut. Even though I’m vegan, I take a multitude of vitamins several times a day.
Most of my vitamin supplements are meant to be a treatment for osteoarthritis, which I suffer from in my neck and hips, and I have noticed quite a bit of improvement in my symptoms.
There are several vitamins that you should consider if you are at risk for any type of arthritis or wanting to prevent it.
I’ll discuss a few of the most common and most effective vitamins for the treatment of arthritis including:
Most forms of arthritis are autoimmune diseases. The immune system begins to attack healthy tissue and cells. It is not yet fully understood what causes this to happen; however, there are many theories.
One of these theories is that autoimmune diseases are caused by a lack of vitamin C. This little vitamin keeps the immune system from running rampant.
Vitamin C has been used to treat cancer, which is a perfect example of its control over the immune system. Essentially, and without all the biochemistry, cancer is a defect in the immune system, which is responsible for turning the body's healing process on and off.
Tumors are the result of the immune system “forgetting” to hit the off switch. Vitamin C prevents this from happening by “reminding” the immune system to turn off after the healing process is completed.
In the case of arthritis, vitamin C prevents the immune system from attacking the tissues of the joints, but it also is a vital part of keeping those tissues healthy. Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen, which is the building block of connective tissue, the tissue that surrounds the joints.
Niacin is a B vitamin, specifically B3, and its effects on arthritis have been studied extensively since the Great Depression by Dr. William Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D.
It increases blood flow through the vasculature of the body, especially the capillaries. This increased blood flow reduces inflammation in the joints and relaxes muscles. It also allows the joints to move fluidly, reducing the amount of wear and tear to which they are subjected.
Niacin must be taken in supplement form in order to consume enough of the vitamin for it to have an effect on arthritis. This is because there is no way to get enough of it from our daily diet. Even for vegetarians, it is impossible to get enough niacin from the foods we eat. Veggies, meats and dairy products just don't contain enough.
Pyridoxine, Vitamins D and A, Zinc
Pyridoxine, or vitamin B6, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of arthritis in combination with Vitamins A and D, as well as zinc.
As a B vitamin, Pyridoxine increases blood flow and helps regulate hormones (especially in females), which can help prevent and alleviate inflammation.
Vitamin D may be obvious because it helps the body absorb and use calcium, which can help prevent osteoarthritis and osteoporsis. But it also helps combat inflammation and regulate hormones, which can prevent inflammation from getting started.
However, patients with sarcoidosis, or lupus erythematosus should be evaluated by a physician prior to starting a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin A affects bone metabolism, and the immune system. When taken in combination with vitamin D, it has been shown to be very effective in the prevention and treatment of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis.
Zinc is well-known for its effects on the immune system. But it also affects the endocrine system and can interfere with the menstrual cycle if a woman has a deficiency. The human body only needs about 15 mg of zinc per day. A 50 mg pill of zinc is the equivalent of 15 mg once the body has converted it.
I discussed these four supplements together because they all work best for preventing arthritis when taken together. In addition, creating a regimen of calcium and magnesium along with niacin and vitamin C can be a very effective combination against arthritis.
Arthritis and Exercise
Last, but definitely not least, is exercise. For those with rheumatoid arthritis, minimal exercise (such as very light walking) can be helpful, but even moderate exercise can exacerbate problems. To prevent rheumatoid arthritis, however, exercise (along with a healthy diet) can be very effective.
For those with other forms of arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, exercise is better than pain killers. I know this from personal experience. Cardio exercises and light weightlifting are excellent for treating joints affected by osteoarthritis.
The endorphins released during these types of exercises are enough to alleviate the majority of inflammation, which in turn alleviates the stiff sensation of the joints. The movement prevents further accumulation of inflammation, breaking the vicious cycle.
The endorphins also alleviate free radicals. Free radicals cause inflammation when left to build up in the body, which is why taking antioxidants is so effective.But the endorphins released from exercising helps flush most free radicals from the system, as does the amount of water we drink during exercise.
Following a balanced and highly nutritional diet, getting enough exercise and taking vitamin supplements can not only alleviate arthritis symptoms in patients already suffering the disease, but can also prevent arthritis from developing prematurely. A healthy lifestyle can also help prevent the disease from advancing.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Melissa Flagg COA OSC