Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Nearly one-third of American adults suffer from symptoms of chronic joint inflammation or arthritis. But for something so commonplace, arthritis still isn’t very well understood.
More than just one disease, arthritis is a complex disorder that comprises more than 100 distinct conditions, affecting people at every stage of life. Two of the most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And while both conditions share a similar name, they’re actually quite different. Osteoarthritis, often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis, is a degenerative form of arthritis that causes degradation of the joints, including cartilage – the shock-absorbing gel-like material between the joints. Researchers aren’t clear on what causes osteoarthritis, but most suspect it’s a combination of factors that includes being overweight, aging, stress and injuries to joints, as well as muscle weakness and hereditary factors. Aging is certainly a major contributor, as the water content of our cartilage increases while its protein makeup degenerates as we age – and wear and tear can irritate and inflame the cartilage, too. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, tissue and even the organs.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. But research still hasn’t discovered exactly what causes this mistaken identity in our immune system, though it’s thought to be a combination of genetics and environmental triggers. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include fatigue, low-grade fevers, weakness, stiffness, swollen joints and finger twitching. While aspirin and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have been used to treat these conditions, their side effects range from mild (gastrointestinal upset, the formation of ulcers, headaches and dizziness) to the serious – the further degeneration of the joint cartilage. In fact, experimental studies have show that aspirin and other NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) actually inhibit cartilage synthesis and accelerate cartilage destruction. In other words, while NSAIDs may suppress the symptoms, they can also accelerate the progression of osteoarthritis. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, however, can benefit from natural therapies, from improved nutrition and supplementation to exercise and a change in diet. For sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis in particular, elimination of allergenic foods such as sugar, animal fats, refined carbohydrates, wheat, corn and dairy have been proven to have significant benefits. And individuals with osteoarthritis may find it beneficial to avoid vegetables from the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes. Beneficial foods for osteoarthritis sufferers include those that promote weight loss, which means fiber-rich foods, fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. For those with rheumatoid arthritis, beneficial foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, cold-water fish and flavanoid-rich berries such as cherries, blackberries and blueberries. A vegetarian diet has also been shown to be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers as well.
The Benefits of Exercise – Osteoarthritis
Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for osteoarthritis sufferers in order to decrease stress on their weight-bearing joints. “Wear and tear” is also a significant issue, so it’s important not to overstretch joints during exercise. If swelling and joint pain occur when exercising, ice and rest are often the best treatments.
- Low-intensity aerobic exercises that don’t put a great deal of stress on the joints are recommended – i.e., swimming or isometrics. These types of exercises will increase the circulation to the joints, strengthen the surrounding muscles and nourish the cartilage.
- Flexibility exercises should also be performed daily to increase your mobility and decrease stiffness and joint pain.
- Strengthening exercises should be performed every other day to help decrease joint pain. Try the Fitness Republic pre-set beginner’s workout [link to: FR beginner’s workout] for a gradual introduction to exercise and fitness.
The Benefits of Exercise – Rheumatoid Arthritis
When joints are swollen or painful, exercise is probably the farthest thing from your mind. But it’s incredibly effective at reducing the pain, swelling and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. While you should avoid high-impact activities that put a great deal of stress on your joints such as running and lifting heavy weights, there are still several types of beneficial exercises you can perform.
- Strength exercises should be performed every day that will help you maintain joint function. The Fitness Republic pre-set beginner’s workout [link to: FR beginner’s workout] is a great way to start your strength-training and exercise regimen.
- Stretching and range-of-motion exercises should be performed daily to help significantly reduce inflammation, even in advanced cases (when performed regularly).
- Aerobic or conditioning exercises should include low-impact activities such as walking or swimming for 20 to 30 minutes every day to help preserve joint and muscle function.
There are also many nutritional supplements that can help alleviate the pain and inflammation causes by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Here are some common nutritional supplements you can take for both conditions.
Beneficial Nutrients - Osteoarthritis
- Vitamin C reduces the risk of cartilage loss and inhibits the progression of this disease.
- Glucosamine Sulfate improves pain, inflammation and joint movement. In double-blind studies, it has also been proven to produce better long-term results for relieving pain and inflammation than NSAIDs. A natural nutritional supplement, glucosamine is generally available in pill or liquid form, though you may have to take it for up to six months to notice any improvement.
- Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) improves joint function, range of motion and muscle strength.
- Vitamin E inhibits the breakdown of cartilage and aids in the formation of new cartilage components.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), another nutritional supplement, increases the formation of cartilage, and also acts as a mild pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory.
Beneficial Nutrients – Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to relieve joint tenderness and stiffness, and also act as an anti-inflammatory. The standard American diet is very low in omega-3 oils, and this deficiency can lead to inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in coldwater fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines), flax seed, walnuts, and cauliflower. Fish oils can be supplemented in amounts of about 2000 mg of essential fatty acids (EFAs) per day.
- Selenium with vitamin E reduces the damage of free radicals.
- Curcumin is an excellent anti-inflammatory with many antioxidant effects. It’s the yellow pigment and active ingredient in the herb tumeric, but there isn’t enough curcumin present in tumeric to impact your health when adding it to your food. A supplemental dosage of 500 mg curcumin capsules three times daily is recommended.
While osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to manage, there are natural therapies that are viable alternatives to medications and NSAIDs without the potentially damaging side effects. There’s no magic bullet, but a combination of proper nutrition, a change in diet and sensible exercise can be effective in helping you manage symptoms and live a healthier life.