Conquer Creaking Joints

By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness

The last time I saw my mom, I was amazed at how well she was moving. She told me it was all due to glucosamine, which she started taking about a year ago, after discovering that she suffered from osteoarthritis (OA). What a difference! Today, Mom’s back to climbing stairs and taking walks. She’s even back to enjoying her marathon treks through the mall!

Even her doctor is impressed. This, coming from a man who used to routinely intimidate his patients into taking prescription painkillers like Celebrex or Vioxx. But, Mom resisted. And, in light of the recent headlines warning users of an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, it’s a good thing she did.

Merek voluntarily pulled Vioxx from the market in September 2004 – after 139,000 deaths had been linked to the drug.  Yet Celebrex and Bextra, two other arthritis drugs, are still being prescribed – even though some scientists and doctors have called for a recall of all prescription COX-2 inhibitors. If you are still taking Celebrex, Bextra or even one of the over-the-counter COX-2 inhibitors like Aleeve (naproxen), be aware that they too may carry the same hazard as Vioxx. And heart attacks and stroke aren’t the only risks these drugs pose. Studies show that COX-2 inhibitors carry a laundry list of other side effects, including diarrhea, headaches, respiratory infections, dizziness and skin rashes. And researchers from the University of California-Irvine found that these new pain relievers could worsen colitis and interfere with the healing of gastric ulcers.

Ironically, studies also show that these painkillers aren’t all that effective. What’s more, COX-2 inhibitors can actually damage the very joints they’re supposed to help. So what can you do if you suffer from OA? Fortunately, there are a number of safe and effective natural options for controlling pain and stiffness.

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The best way to make a decision on how to treat OA is to look at what’s really happening to your joints. Joints are where your bones make their connections. Cartilage covers the connecting surfaces of two bones where they join, allowing them to effortlessly glide one bone over the other. This cartilage is made of two types of large molecules, proteoglycans and collagen. Proteoglycans provide elasticity and stiffness on compression; collagen provides the strength. But, as we age, our body’s production of both of these proteins declines. And this is where glucosamine comes in.

Glucosamine provides the building blocks for proteoglycans. Made from seashells, this natural arthritis reliever can lead to a long-lasting reduction in pain. But glucosamine is much more than a panacea. Long-term use can help joints function better by protecting cartilage from enzymes that can destroy it, and through its anti-inflammatory effects. But here’s the best part: Glucosamine also prevents the death of cartilage cells – not only halting joint destruction, but actually reversing it.

Here’s the proof: A recent study in the journal Menopause found that glucosamine stopped the progression of OA in the knees of postmenopausal women. During the three-year placebo-controlled trial, 414 women were given either a glucosamine supplement or placebo. By the end of the trial, the researchers found that the women taking the glucosamine actually had structural improvement in their joints. On the flip side, most of those in the placebo group showed no improvement, and many found that their OA had gotten worse. Three times as many women in the placebo group showed a narrowing in the space between joints – clear evidence of destruction.

But glucosamine’s effect isn’t limited to women. An earlier trial of more than 2,000 men and women suffering from OA found that those taking 1,500 mg. of the supplement a day had healthier joint than those taking a placebo. And the folks in the glucosamine group also reported 25 percent less pain and stiffness!

Eat Away Arthritis

What you eat should also be part of a long-term approach to OA. The typical high-fat, high-calorie diet has caused Americans to pack on the pounds. But, along with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, being overweight puts an enormous amount of pressure on your joints. The all-American diet also promotes inflammation, which can cause pain, stiffness and permanent damage to your joints.

Researchers have started looking at the role diet plays in the prevention and treatment of OA. The overall benefits of a healthier diet and weight loss were shown in a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Three-hundred and sixteen overweight men and women with OA in one or both knees took part in the study. All of the subjects were randomly assigned to one of four 18-month treatments: Healthy lifestyle control, diet-induced weight loss, exercise, and diet plus exercise. Of course, everyone in the study ended up healthier. But those who lost weight due to an improved diet showed a decrease in both their symptoms and inflammation.

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One Last Thing . . .

Of course, long-term relief is the ultimate goal. But for times when you need fast relief from OA pain and stiffness, try bromelain. This pineapple derivative is a potent anti-inflammatory that can help reduce the symptoms of both osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also a terrific analgesic.

Until now, however, the evidence that bromelain worked was mostly anecdotal. But British researchers from the University of Reading have given this natural pain relieving enzyme clinical credibility. During their trial, 77 volunteers were given either 200 mg. or 400 mg. of bromelain a day. The result: Both doses helped relieve pain and stiffness, although the higher dose was more effective.

For most people, bromelain is extremely safe and free from side effects. But, because bromelain acts like a blood thinner, if you are taking blood thinning drugs, check with your doctor and avoid combining prescription blood thinners with bromelain.

This Just In . . .

Stress is often at the root of what ails us – from insomnia to weight gain and high blood pressure to migraines. It’s unhealthy and, let’s face it, it makes us all crazy!

As I was stressing over deadlines the other day, I happened to come across some terrific stress-busting tips that I thought I’d share with you.

  1. Do less. Practice taking on less. Say no to anything that is not vital for your family or your work. Go slowly. Don’t overpack your weekend just because you have two days off from work. Practice the art of being unscheduled.
  2. Remember to breathe. Many of us breathe shallowly without realizing it. Dedicate five minutes a day to breathing deeply. You will be surprised at how such a small investment can have such a positive impact on your well-being.
  3. Eliminate caffeine. Caffeine contributes to a “stressed” feeling by increasing cortisol output, which acts like the stress hormone adrenalin. The more cortisol you have, the more your body mimics the stress response.
  4. Exercise at least three times a week to build your physical reserves against stress. Moderate walking has many physical benefits, and the stress-relieving qualities can last for days.

Of course, these are all no-brainers. But when stress creeps up on us, it’s easy to forget these calming techniques. Since life will probably always be busy, managing stress should be a priority – especially since constant stress can bring on serious health problems.

References:

“Celecoxib in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis: new preparation. As disappointing as rofecoxib.” Prescrire International. 2001;10:46-49.

Ding C. “Do NSAIDs affect the progression of osteoarthritis?” Inflammation. 2002;26:139-142.

Pavelka K, et al. “Glucosamine sulfate use and delay of progression of knee osteoarthritis: a 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2002;162:2113-2123.

Reginster JY, et al. “Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Lancet. 2001;357:251-256.

“Vioxx Deaths May Be Higher Than Previously Thought.” Financial Times. 2 Jan 2005.

Walker AF, et al. “Bromelain reduces mild acute knee pain and improves well-being in a dose-dependent fashion in an open study of otherwise healthy adults.” Phytomedicine. 2002;9:681-686.

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