I have several patients with arthritis – some of them are over age 40, but some of them are much younger as well. Many people commonly think that arthritis is just an “old person” condition where stiff and painful joints happen because of age. However, not everyone who grows old will automatically get arthritis because it is a disease, not just a symptom of aging. The same is true for juvenile arthritis, which affects very young children, which is a disease not common to children.
May is National Arthritis Awareness Month and I’d like to share with you some facts and information about the widespread condition of arthritis that affects 46 million Americans.
What Is Arthritis?
There are over 100 subtypes of arthritis, but basically 3 main categories of the disease:
Rheumatoid arthritis: Over 1.3 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. The body’s immune system begins to attack its own synovial membranes resulting in chronic inflammation of the joints, swelling, pain and immobility.
Osteoarthritis: Affects over 27 million Americans and is divided into two types: Primary and Secondary. Primary occurs typically in older persons from wear and tear of aging structures. Cartilage that protects the ends of bones can wear down causing bones to rub against each other causing pain, stiffness and trouble moving. Secondary osteoarthritis can occur at any age from injury to a joint or from excess strain placed on a joint from obesity.
Juvenile Arthritis: Also called juvenile idiopathic arthritis, JA, affects over 300,000 American children a year. Like rheumatoid arthritis, JA is also an autoimmune based type of arthritis which attacks the synovium of joints. There are several types of JA, some of which affect other parts of the body in addition to joints.
Who Is At Risk For Arthritis?
Researchers look at how diet, environment, and genetics play into the possibility that someone will get arthritis. Certainly some people may be genetically predisposed to getting rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis, where faulty behavior of the immune system is the culprit. Other research points to bacterial, viral, fungal, infectious agents that the immune system may react to after the infection is gone. Other influencing factors can be:
Hormones – 70% of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are women while 95% of gout (a form of arthritis) affects men.
Stress – The body produces stress chemicals, which chronically may inflame joints.
Smoking – Activates RA genes in predisposed people and can worsen the severity of it.
In osteoarthritis, lifestyle can largely influence whether you will get the condition in this way:
Excess weight: Puts a lot more strain on joints which can bring on the condition.
Lack of Exercise: Staying active with regular exercise, both aerobic and weight training, helps joints, bones, tissues, cartilage, stay strong and less prone to breaking down.
Nutrition: Maintain a healthy diet full of inflammation decreasing foods and antioxidants, immune system boosting vitamins and bone-joint building minerals.
Sports injuries: Participating in high impact contact sports such as football, hockey, baseball, can put you at higher risk for secondary osteoarthritis from joint injury.
What Can You Do About Arthritis?
Depending on the degree and disability of your arthritis, and/or if replacement of joints is necessary, the most common form of treatment recommendation is to keep moving. That’s right. More movement, rather than less, will keep you from becoming overly stiff and immobile.
Regular exercise like riding a bike and swimming in a warm pool are excellent choices as they keep your joints moving without impact and help to decrease pain and inflammation. You may also want to engage in walking with good support shoes. Other things you can do include:
Natural anti-inflammatory agents: Bromelain, cherry juice, white willow bark, apple cider vinegar are effective as aspirin in decreasing inflammation. Gin soaked raisins is a folk remedy for arthritis that many people claim banishes pain.
Supplements: Immune building vitamins such as Vitamin D3, and antioxidants like Vitamin C, selenium, resveratrol help decrease inflammation. Omega-3 fish oils 1-2,000 mg a day (more can cause toxicity) help to lubricate joints.
Far Infrared Sauna: This is a different type of sauna than the traditional hot steam sauna. It helps decrease toxins in the body and inflammation as well as swollen joints. Start easy with 10 minute sessions. Be sure to drink a lot of water during and after.
Diet: Try experimenting with the amount of grains you eat as some research suggests they may cause inflammation of joints. Stick to anti-arthritis superfoods like fruits, nuts, leafy vegetables, fish, chicken, red meat only occasionally, and not too many Omega-6 vegetable oils.
With National Arthritis Awareness Month right around the corner, learn all you can about how to prevent certain types of arthritis and what you can naturally do to help your symptoms if you already have arthritis. Try some of the recommendations here and see how you respond.
As I tell my arthritic patients, don’t let arthritis get the best of you, get out and stay as active as you possibly can. The more you move, the more you will be able to keep moving!
Mark Bromson, M.D.