As you are leaping tall buildings with a single bound to make it to the gym on time for your class, you probably aren’t entertaining thoughts of how your workout is going to help you to prevent arthritis-but it does! Furthermore, you may think that arthritis will not likely affect you or anyone you know, but consider this: more than 350 million people worldwide have some type of arthritis. Fifty million of those people are Americans. This means that one in five adults is dealing with arthritis right now. It does happen more often as people get older, but all age groups are affected, and women are about fifty percent more likely to have this disease than men. Osteoarthritis, the focus of this article, is second only to heart disease as a leading cause of disability in the U.S. Treatment for this disease costs the U.S. approximately 65 billion per year.
Osteoarthritis (OA) happens because the articular cartilage covering the endpoints of the bones within our joints begins to soften and wear away. This softening in the cartilage is caused by wear and tear on the joint and by chemical changes that take place within the cartilage itself. Most commonly, the joints of the hands, hips, spine, and knees are affected. Breakdown of the cartilage can lead to stiffness, pain, movement problems, and limited physical activity. Muscle weakness surrounding the knee joint is a common problem in people with OA, and may even be a risk factor for developing it in the first place. Other contributing factors that lead to arthritis include diet, obesity (causing extra pressure on weight bearing joints), a defect in the body’s connective tissue, or an injury to a joint.
Since cartilage regenerates very slowly if at all, it’s important to protect it. Scientists have not been able to completely answer why collagen fibers in our cartilage reorganize in a less resilient way over time. Part of the cause is wear and tear on the joints, the other possible factor is oxidization in our collagen cells that effects how the cells repair and organize themselves. We can gain leverage on protecting ourselves from cartilage breakdown and OA by choosing to exercise in ways that strengthen our joints, and by consuming a nutrient dense diet that is rich in antioxidants, which can literally strengthen our joint cartilage on a cellular level.
In terms of exercise, a consistent and systematic workout routine with isometrics, resistance bands, bodyweight, and eventually with weights will go a long way in strengthening the muscles around your joints. That added strength can reinforce joint stability and prevent damage that could lead to cartilage erosion or shore up a joint that’s already having problems. Also, aerobic exercise like walking, water aerobics, swimming, cycling, and elliptical training helps improve your overall level of fitness while minimizing impact on the joints. With all exercise you want to start out slowly and progress gradually especially if you’re dealing with arthritis. As your aerobic capacity improves, you can build up to 20-30 minutes of cardio exercise per day.
Eating whole foods that are high in antioxidants is an extremely important tool in helping to prevent cartilage damage and also in controlling inflammation from arthritis. Antioxidant foods help to eliminate free radicals- unstable atoms in our bodies that attack our DNA and cells. This process generates oxidative stress that creates many health problems. It’s possible that oxidative stress plays a part in compromising the collagen network in our cartilage, allowing it to tear more easily and become arthritic.
I asked LFA’s resident nutrition expert, Tim Mallon, for some suggestions on preventing and treating osteoarthritis. Here are a few of his thoughts:
1) Juice fasting. This process gives our bodies a rest from constantly working to digest food and provides the time and nutrients that we need in order to repair damage from mechanical and oxidative stress. Juice fasting can also help with joint pain related to high uric acid levels as it helps the kidneys rejuvenate.
2) Eating more (organic) tree foods and perennial plants provides us with nutrients that are already in a molecular form that is easy to absorb and doesn’t require a lot of extra energy from our bodies to break them down.
3) Cleansing/Helping kidneys using herbs to assist body in dissolving or removing acids and inorganic minerals and metals. If the kidneys become clogged and cannot filter these minerals and metals properly, these compounds tend to build up in the body and effect the joints much like calcium deposits end up in your shower when minerals aren’t filtered out of your water.
4) Cleansing the colon using herbs to strengthen peristaltic muscles. (These are the muscles in your intestines that move waste out of your body.)
5) Try cutting out wheat for 6 months to prevent inflammation. Much of the modern wheat that is consumed in America is devoid of its nutrition with synthetic vitamins and minerals added (which we do not recommend). It tends to create inflammation. You always want to minimize inflammation in the body, especially in the case of arthritis.
6) Add some bone broth into your diet. Bone broth made from pastured chicken or beef is rich in collagen and can help the body with the necessary amino acids to rebuild connective tissue.
7) Look for plants that are high in silica to include in your daily diet. Silica helps the body repair tissue and rebuild connective tissue to repair bones and joints. The best form of silica (plant form or organic acid form) is orthosilicic acid. Herbs and vegetal silica would be the best source. Vegetables containing silicon include asparagus, cabbage, and cucumbers. Whole grains such as rice, millet, oats, and flaxseeds contain very high amounts of silicon.
8) Take 1 T. of cinnamon (preferably ceylon) with honey 6 days pr. wk. for pain reduction. This spice helps reduce inflammation.
I hope this helps shed some light on ways that we can overcome being a victim to osteoarthritis and gain strength to do the things we love to do. So next time you’re doing your best superhero sprint to the gym, give yourself a pat on the back at the same time for nipping arthritis in the bud!