Most people experience joint pain to varying degrees at some point in their lives. This is completely normal considering the everyday wear and tear that we put our joints through. Yet, when this pain becomes persistent (chronic), then the condition is usually referred to as arthritis.
The word ‘arthritis’ is originally from the Greek ‘arthro-‘ (joint) and ‘-itis' (inflammation). Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not a new condition or one that is solely associated with old age. It can affect people of all ages and is possibly one of the oldest health concerns known to humankind. Fossilised Neanderthal remains from over 100 000 years ago have been analysed and evidence of arthritic-like conditions were discovered in their skeletal structures.
There are many different forms of arthritis (nearly 100 have been identified to date). The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (inflammation occurring within the joint itself) rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation in peripheral joints like the hands,) psoriatic arthritis (affecting the skin around the joint). When a joint becomes infected, it is known as septic arthritis.
How ordinary joint pain progresses to arthritis is still not known, even after all these years of humans dealing with the condition. The pain from arthritis is due to inflammation that occurs in and around the joint itself. It is also believed that joint damage from previous afflictions and muscle strains caused by (often forceful) movements against stiff and painful joints are possible root causes of the condition. Hereditary factors may also play a role, and the majority of medical researchers agree that viral and bacterial infections appear to promote the inflammation associated with arthritis.
Once inflammation arises in the joints themselves, other immune cells are drawn to the afflicted area and exacerbate the condition.
Even though we may not know much about the origins of joint pain, the good news is that there are ways to treat the condition naturally.
Natural ways to curb joint pain
Thankfully there are several natural health remedies that may help alleviate joint pain.
Glucosamine is a component of larger compounds called glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans, which help trap water in cartilage, conferring it the flexibility and resilience it needs in order to function properly.
Chondroitin is a structural component similar to glucosamine, and it is believed to help in the management of arthritis due to its ability to maintain viscosity in joints, stimulate cartilage repair, and reduce cartilage destruction. Chondroitin has been shown to improve hand pain and stiffness. Just like glucosamine, chondroitin has a delayed mode of action; it requires 2-3 weeks for therapeutic response.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is often recommended for individuals who consume a typical Western diet (a diet which is unusually high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids). These increased levels of omega-6 fatty acids are believed to be responsible for the destruction of cartilage and bone. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the proteins involved in the pathology of arthritis and particularly the damage done by excessive Omega-6 consumption. Krill oil and fish oil are both good sources of omega-3-fatty acids.
All about reducing inflammation
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a building block for cartilage synthesis and is secreted by chondrocytes (those cells found in healthy cartilage). Hyaluronic acid may interfere with pain mediators and decrease the production of enzymes responsible for promoting inflammation and destroying healthy cartilage tissue in joints.
Sulphur containing compounds, such as methylsulfonylmethane, found in all fruits, vegetables and grains, as well as the human body. The sulphur may reduce peripheral pain and inhibit degenerative effects of arthritis by stabilising cell membranes and scavenging, ‘inflammatory-promoting’ free radicals.
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) occurs naturally within the body and confers analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Supplementing with SAMe may reduce stiffness and pain, and also increase joint functioning. Trimethylglycerine is a precursor of SAMe and supplementing with it may be beneficial in reducing symptoms.
…. and, promoting collagen synthesis
Avocado and soy oil may stimulate collagen synthesis and promote cartilage repair, as well as reducing inflammation.
Collagen may be beneficial in arthritis by reducing the autoimmune reaction that occurs after the arthritic joint destruction exposes internal collagen. In clinical trials, collagen has been shown to significantly enhance daily activities in people with osteoarthritis.
Curcumin (found in turmeric) may relieve some symptoms. The compound has anti-inflammatory effects as it directly interferes in the cell signalling cascade that takes place during inflammation. It also has anti-oxidant effects.
Vitamin D is a prohormone version of an important hormone called calcitriol. Once converted into calcitriol, vitamin D inhibits inflammation by down regulating pro-inflammatory mediators and hereby reducing inflammation.
Green tea extract has been shown to protect human chondrocytes from inflammatory damage so it may also be beneficial in arthritis.
Natural analgesics to help stem the pain and reduce swelling
Supplementing with the gum extract of the Indian tree Boswellia serrata may confer benefits as the extract has been reported to possess beneficial anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, and also analgesic properties.
Ginger is related to curcumin. Evidence suggests that ginger supplementation (when applied topically in the form of a warm compress,) can promote relaxation and analgesic benefits in people with arthritis. In clinical trials, ingested ginger extract also appeared to have a moderate effect on reducing joint stiffness and pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Boron is an essential nutrient for healthy bones and joints – so supplementing with it may be beneficial in arthritis. Additionally, niacin, a form of vitamin B3, has been shown to reduce inflammation in clinical trials. Coenzyme Q10 may be able to ease inflammation and also decrease oxidative stress in chondrocytes.
For centuries people have employed bee sting venom to treat joint disorders and arthritis. Recently researchers have begun testing the venom in animal models, with some very promising results. Data from some studies have shown that bee venom appears to prevent the development of arthritis in rabbits by promoting the action of natural glucocorticoids which exhibit powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Further validation from human clinical trials is still pending on this approach.
Massaging, acupuncture, hot baths and exercise
Massaging olive oil topically into the afflicted joint area may help ease the pain as well. Warming the olive oil prior to application makes the massage more comfortable and enhances penetration of the beneficial omega 3 fatty acids directly into the afflicted joint.
Additionally, acupuncture may help decrease level of pain experienced in arthritis. Acupuncture achieves this analgesic effect by stimulating the body’s natural opioid system and reducing the release of cortisol and other stress hormones.
Preparing a hot bath and adding 2-3 cups of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) may provide some soothing relief for sore joints. Staying in the bath for up to an hour will help the salts really soak in to the body to get into the joints directly. On top of this, working on joint mobility via a daily stretching routine can also be very effective at reducing pain and improving overall joint movement. Combining this exercise routine with a healthy, balanced diet will ultimately help maintain a healthy body weight and hereby reduce the pressure and strain on joints due to excess weight.
Hope this information helps and please note: It is important that if you are suffering from recurring joint pain, you seek out the advice of a health professional.
by Christopher von Roy BSc, MSc, DCP Immunology
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