Avoiding arthritis

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2012

There are many forms of arthritis but osteoarthritis is the most common and it is usually associated with aging. Getting older doesn't make it inevitable, however. There are several things that we can do to prevent it or to delay its onset and even when it is already under way there are lifestyle changes that can relieve the pain and discomfort.

More than half of Americans over the age of 50 are aware of the pain and swelling, usually of the knees or hips, that characterize the disease. Women are more likely than men to develop arthritis of the hands. Although repeated injury to a joint may lead to disease in specific joints such as the ankle joints of ballet dancers, the common garden variety of osteoarthritis has no obvious cause. There is one lifestyle factor that is subject to at least some degree of control: obesity.

It's logical to assume that extra pounds cause greater impact on the knee or hip joint over decades of daily activity, eventually grinding down the cartilage that provides a cushion separating bones from each other. That's only part of the process. Fat cells don't just take up space. They produce inflammatory chemicals and hormones that have a destructive effect on cartilage. That helps to explain why the finger joints, which are not subjected to the downward force of excess weight, are often involved in osteoarthritis.

Numerous studies show that a healthy diet that includes plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fats can postpone the onset of osteoarthritis and can relieve some of the symptoms once it has begun. Antioxidants help to quell the inflammation generated by free radicals and omega-3 fats act by suppressing the inflammatory response. A diet that is low in refined grains and sugar is less likely to result in overweight.

Exercising when pain in your knees or hips makes it difficult even to walk is obviously a challenge but physical activity definitely alleviates the pain of arthritis. Seek the help of a physical therapist, not just a fitness trainer, in order to select low-impact exercises that reduce pain and improve mobility.

Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin have had mixed results but the preponderance of evidence is in their favor, especially when combined with omega-3 fats.

Although aspirin and NSAIDS such as ibuprofen alleviate the pain they do nothing to improve the underlying problem and have multiple side effects.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.