How can I decrease my joint pain and stiffness, plus slow the progression of my arthritis?
Joint pain and joint stiffness is a hot topic, especially now that we have new, better, and safer treatment options. Rarely, joint pain can be a serious medical issue, so always check with your medical provider to exclude anything worrisome, especially if you aren’t improving.
The most common cause of joint pain is osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint disease), which is caused by wear & tear or trauma to our joints, and impacts 20 million Americans. As the cartilage padding in the joint thins, the joint becomes inflamed, and if allowed to progress, eventually you have bone grinding on bone–causing substantial pain.
Daily non-pounding exercise is the best treatment for early to moderate arthritis. Movement keeps your joints flexible, prevents stiffness, and builds the muscles that support your joints.
Surprisingly, your diet has a big impact on joint pain. Eating refined carbs and bad fats increases inflammation, especially in arthritic joints. White rice, white flour, sugar, skinless potatoes, fatty meats, and fatty dairy (including 2% reduced fat dairy products that aren’t really low fat) all increase inflammation substantially. Enjoy exercise and a diet including lean protein, more seafood, abundant fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, virgin olive oil and organic canola oil for cooking. With this type of dietary intake, many people achieve substantial joint pain relief within a couple weeks.
Medications help arthritis symptoms, but they have serious risks and they don’t slow progression of joint damage. Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs; e.g., Advil, Alleve, Naprosyn, Ibuprofen, Celebrex) improve joint pain, but increase your risk for heart attacks and strokes, kidney damage, fluid retention, and they often put microscopic holes in your gastro-intestinal system. So do not rely on Advil, Ibuprofen, Alleve, etc without talking to your doctor first. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is safer than NSAIDs, nearly as effective if taken regularly, but at high dosages taken long term it has been associated with memory loss in clinical studies. (Stewart WF et al. Neurology, March 2007)
If you would like herbal supplements to reduce your joint pain and potentially slow the progression of your arthritis, follow Dr. Masley’s simple steps for joint support:
1. First confirm that your vitamin D level is normal! Low vitamin D increases bone, muscle and joint pain, and is associated with higher cancer and cardiovascular risk. A normal level is >32, optimal level is 40-70, and most people need at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
2. Get your fish oil! Everyone should get at least 1,000 mg of long chain omega-3 fats daily for general good health. You cannot get this from flax or vegetable omega-3 oils. You need to confirm that your fish oil is not rancid and that the oil is at least 75% EPA and DHA. Sadly, this eliminates 90% of fish oil sold in America. More than any other supplement, be sure you buy high quality fish oil. If you have arthritis, taking 2,000 to 3,000 mg daily can provide substantial joint relief. If you eat three 4-5 ounce servings per week of salmon or sardines, this food intake will provide 1,000 mg daily, which isn’t usually enough to help people with arthritis. Always let your doctor know if you take more than 2,000 mg daily and be sure to stop high dosages one week before having surgery as high fish oil dosing may increase bleeding risk.
3. Take glucosamine! Not only does glucosamine sulfate decrease arthritis pain (especially effective for knee arthritis), but published clinical trials have shown that it slows progression of osteoarthritis of the knee. This supplement usually takes 6-8 weeks to work, and most people need 1,000 to 2,000 mg daily. Don’t be fooled into using chondroitin or other forms of glucosamine (stick to glucosamine sulfate), as they increase the price without any proven extra benefit.
A simple way to get all these items with good value and excellent quality is to try my Ten Years Younger Multivitamin with Joint Support pack; each box gives you a 2-month supply with an excellent multivitamin, 1200 mg of high quality fish oil (combine this with weekly seafood intake and you get ~2,000 mg daily), 1500 IU of vitamin D, and 1,000 mg of glucosamine sulfate, plus extra calcium and magnesium.
4. You should notice a clear difference in just 8 weeks with the joint support, especially if you follow the Ten Years Younger lifestyle Program. If you need extra support, switch to the Ten Years Younger Multivitamin with Arthritis Support. It contains the same ingredients as the Multivitamin with joint support, plus adds an extra glucosamine sulfate (now with 2,000 mg of glucosamine sulfate daily), and Curcumin 400 mg daily. Curcumin is an incredible natural agent that lowers inflammation, has been shown to treat arthritis symptoms by itself and is also associated with reducing cancer and Alzheimer’s risk. You have the option to increase your fish oil dosage to reduce inflammation as well, up to 3,000 mg daily. Always check with your medical provider before changing your supplement regimen if you have medical problems, especially if you take anti-coagulant medications.
5. For cases that defy normal therapy options, check with your doctor and, consider going on my Ten Years Younger Elimination Diet for at least 3 weeks.
6. If nothing helps and your doctor and medical imaging confirm a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, then you might also be a good candidate for joint injections by your physician. Cortisone injections have been offered for years for advanced arthritis, but new injection options that I’ve had success with and have been extensively studied (200 million injections given worldwide) include purified hyaluronate (such as Supartz). This can be injected directly into arthritic joints to decrease arthritis symptoms, but currently only osteoarthritis of the knee has an FDA approved indication, while other joints are being evaluated in clinical trials).
To your health and to less joint pain too!
Steven Masley, MD, FAAFP, CNS, FACN