The Art of Living With Osteoarthritis

Get creative with your remedy for relief.

There are countless activities that many of us don’t think twice about. Using scissors, removing a cap from a bottle, or sometimes just getting out of bed can be daunting tasks for those who suffer from arthritis. As one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that arthritis affects over twenty-five million adults nationwide. Osteoarthritis is one of oldest documented chronic diseases that affects humans; archaeologists have even found changes typical of osteoarthritis in prehistoric human bones.

Osteoarthritis doesn’t discriminate, but it is the most common type of arthritis in seniors (especially women) between the ages of 50 and 60. It starts when tissue (called cartilage) that pads bones in a joint begins to wear away. When the cartilage has worn away, the bones rub against each other. It most often happens in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips. Symptoms range from stiffness and mild pain that comes and goes, to pain that doesn't stop—even when resting or sleeping. Sometimes osteoarthritis causes your joints to feel stiff after you haven't moved them for a while, like after riding in the car for a long period of time. Left untreated, osteoarthritis can make it painfully hard to move your joints and, if the knees, hips, or back are affected—completely disable movement.

Why do you get osteoarthritis? Growing older is what most often puts you at risk, possibly because your joints and the cartilage around them become less able to recover from everyday stress and damage. Also, osteoarthritis may run in families or be linked with being overweight (especially where the knees are concerned). Injuries or overuse may also cause osteoarthritis in joints such as knees, hips, or hands.

The three main causes of osteoarthritis can be boiled down to excess body mass (affecting the knee), joint injury (through sports or work trauma), and your occupation (due to excessive mechanical stress such as hard labor, heavy lifting, knee bending, or repetitive motion). Other possible risk factors include: estrogen deficiency, osteoporosis, and deficiency of vitamins C, E, and D. Getting enough rest; exercising; eating a healthy, well-balanced diet; and learning the right way to use and protect your joints are keys to living with any kind of arthritis. Proper shoes and a cane can help with pain in the feet, knees, and hips when walking. There are also gadgets to help you open jars and bottles or to turn the doorknobs in your house. Rest and exercise make it easier to move your joints, and keeping excess weight off reduces stress on those joints.

There is no cure for arthritis, so the focus aims to control the progression of the disease, to manage the pain in different ways, to improve the range of movement, and, ultimately, to improve or maintain function. The following supplements, when used correctly, can have an alleviating and improving affect on your joint pain.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

The American College of Rheumatology recommends a stepped approach to control pain of osteoarthritis, ranging from non-pharmacological measures, through various medications, to surgery when other therapies fail. Alternative therapies exist, some of which are widely used by patients with or without physician recommendation. Glucosamine and chondroitin are the most widely known of these agents. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are natural substances found in and around the cells of cartilage. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body produces and distributes in cartilage and other connective tissue, and chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water. In the United States, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are sold as dietary supplements, which are regulated as foods rather than drugs.

Glucosamine, which is produced naturally in the body, plays a key role in building cartilage, the tough connective tissue that cushions the joints. In the past, some researchers thought glucosamine may actually slow progression of the disease; studies have not shown conclusively that glucosamine helps repair or grow new cartilage, or stops cartilage from being further damaged. Most studies show that glucosamine needs to be taken for two to four months before it is effective, although you may experience some improvement sooner.

Chondroitin is another product that may be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis. Chondroitin is a molecule that occurs naturally in the body. It is a major component of cartilage. It helps keep cartilage healthy by absorbing fluid (particularly water) into the connective tissue. It may also block enzymes that break down cartilage, and it provides the building blocks for the body to produce new cartilage. Chondroitin is often taken with glucosamine. The effectiveness of both chondroitin and glucosamine has conflicting results.

Collagen

Collagen, believe it or not, is one of life’s most useful and diverse ingredients when it comes to holding onto your youth. With its connective and supportive properties, it can act as a great supplement to your joint health. The networks of cartilage-dense material that constitute the skin and joints make use of this structural building block and are imperative to maintain as you grow older.

BioCell Technology has created Bio-Cell Collagen II, a dietary supplement that uses hydrolyzed collagen and highly-bioavailable hyaluronic acid in its combination of ingredients; hyaluronic acid serves as the primary lubricating molecule in the synovial fluid around joints. Hyrdrolyzed collagen type II is the most abundant type of collagen in the cartilage of synovial joints (which are the most movable joints).

Maintaining synovial joints is important in preventing osteoarthritis. Synovial joints, like the elbows and knees, for example, are surrounded by the synovial membrane, which forms a capsule around the ends of the bones. This membrane secretes a liquid called the synovial fluid. It has many protective functions, including serving as a lubricant, shock absorber, and a nutrient carrier. The joint cartilage is immersed in the synovial fluid and is a fibrous connective tissue; it is avascular, which means it contains no blood vessels. This is why the synovial fluid is so important: Synovial fluid is the only way in which nutrients can be carried into the cartilage and waste can be removed.

Studies that have tested BioCell Collagen II in human clinical trials have shown that it reduces joint discomfort and stiffness as much as 40 percent in eight weeks. As a result of the studies, participants also had remarkable improvements in skin texture and hydration, reduced scaling, and enhanced blood circulation.

How does it work, you ask? Hydrolyzing the collagen reduces its molecular weight and allows it to be made into an oral supplement that is readily absorbed by the body. Once it is digested, it begins to generate biologically active peptides in the body. One of these peptides has been shown to stimulate the production of hyraluronic acid, which plays a key role in retaining water molecules for hydration which comes full circle and serves as an important lubricating molecule in highly used joints.

Take this study, for example. To investigate BioCell’s tolerability and efficacy, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted in 80 patients who were suffering from a moderate-to-severe degree of physician-verified, disease-associated symptoms in their hips and/or knee joints. Joint pain had been present for three months or longer at enrollment, and pain levels were four or higher at baseline as assessed by Physician Global Assessment scores.

Subjects were divided into two groups and administered either 2 g of BioCell Collagen or a placebo for 70 days. Other outcome measurements included visual analogue scale (VAS) for pain and Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index (WOMAC) scores taken on days 1, 35, and 70. The tolerability profile of the treatment group was comparable to that of the placebo. Intent-to-treat analysis showed that the treatment group, as compared to placebo, had a significant reduction of VAS pain on day 70 and of WOMAC scores on both days 35 and 70. The BioCell group experienced a significant improvement in physical activities compared to the placebo group on days 35 and 70. Overall, BioCell was well-tolerated and found to be effective in managing arthritic-associated symptoms over the study period, thereby improving patient’s activities of daily living.

MSM

MSM (mehteyaweer) contains a significant amount of sulfur—34 percent by weight. According to recent studies, MSM proves to incorporate and deliver that sulfur to proteins and inflamed joint tissues. The sulfur, in general, helps maintain the structure of connective tissue by forming cross-linkages through disulfide bonds—it helps strengthen the tissues that make up the joint.

Sulfur is critical to good joint health. Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are the fundamental building blocks of joint cartilage, and GAG molecules are linked together in chains by disulfide bonds. As the name implies, these bonds links between two sulfur atoms. The disulfide bridges reduce conformational flexibility of GAG chains, making cartilage firm and resilient. Cartilage integrity is thus a sulfur-dependent state.

Bergstrom Nutrition produces a MSM product that is safe to use as an additive for food and drink products. Called OptiMSM, this MSM product is distilled for optimal purity and removes heavy metals and other contaminants in its carefully controlled purifying process. Besides aiding in support for healthy joints, studies show that MSM boosts seasonal immune health by helping alleviate certain allergies, supports liver health and metabolism, and has possible applications in the personal care arena, including that for hair, skin, and nail care.

It is possible to live well with arthritis. Although the pain will never completely go away, you can manage the disease by implementing these different techniques. The science behind controlling arthritic pain is also an art—you can paint relief through a combination effort of medications and herbal supplementation. Talk to your doctor about your options to find the formula that’s right for you.

 

Herbal Treatments for Arthritis

These herbal remedies can help alleviate pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.

Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens): Native to South Africa, the prickly devil’s claw is a hard fruit covered with sharp little hooks that snag onto fur and flesh, causing pain. As an herbal remedy, however, it takes pain away, with research showing it significantly alleviates back pain and arthritis.

One four-month study examined more than 120 people with knee and hip osteoarthritis and found that devil’s claw decreased pain and increased function just as well as a common osteoarthritis medication, but with far fewer side effects. Other studies have shown similar results for low-back pain. The active ingredients appear to be compounds called iridoid glycosides, in particular, one called harpagoside, which have potent pain-relieving and inflammation-fighting properties, says Wright. Take 50 to 100 mg of harpagoside daily or 400 mg of dried devil’s claw. People with stomach ulcers should consult their doctor first since devil’s claw stimulates the production of gastric acid.

Ginger (Zingiber offi cinale): This flavorful root contains enzymes that inhibit the production of inflammatory compounds. But “the amount of ginger in a spice, tea, or candy isn’t going to provide much pain relief, no matter how good it tastes,” says Paul Anderson, ND, at Bastyr University in Seattle. For acute pain, 2 grams of ground dehydrated ginger daily, in three divided doses, should do the trick. For chronic conditions, cut to 1 gram daily, in three divided doses.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa): An ancient spice that gives curry its deep golden-orange color, turmeric reduces the inflammation in the body that causes pain. Curcumin, a component in turmeric, inhibits cell enzymes that contribute to inflammation. A study conducted at the University of Arizona showed mice injected with a bacterial substance known to cause inflammation (which is what arthritis ultimately is) experienced significant, reduced joint swelling if given turmeric first. It is currently being investigated for possible treatments of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other clinical disorders.