I have several patients with arthritis – both “regular” (associated with wear and tear on joints, i.e., osteoarthritis) and rheumatoid types (associated with immune system disorders). Both types have their specific challenges and methods of treatments.
Since May is arthritis awareness month, I would like to share with you, as I do my own patients, new findings in arthritis research. These new findings have prompted doctors, like myself, to also treat other conditions in their arthritis patients that may be aggravating, or even causing their arthritis. Here’s what current research shows:
Arthritis – What’s New in an Old Condition
Many of my patients with rheumatoid arthritis are women. It seems to affect women more, but no one really knows why. However, researchers recently found several links to other conditions that are thought to perhaps cause – or worsen – rheumatoid arthritis.
Obesity: Mayo Clinic researchers found a link in obese women with the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Fat cells, it seems, produce the same type of substances that causes inflammation, which are also found in immune system disorders, rheumatoid arthritis being one of them. In my female patients who weigh more than they should, I make them aware of these findings. Not only is obesity associated with heart disease and diabetes, it may either be worsening their RA, or putting them at risk for developing it. It’s one more piece of information in the puzzle to help treat the symptoms of RA.
Fractures: Other research out of the Mayo Clinic has shown that even women under 50 as well as men with rheumatoid arthritis are at higher risk for bone fractures. The exact mechanism of how RA may aggravate fracture may be because RA is associated with inflammation throughout joints. Inflammation likely weakens bone strength and density, making them more susceptible to fracture. In my patients with RA, I recommend that they get enough calcium and Vitamin D3 in their diets to maintain good bone health.
Bartonella infection: Many of my patients with RA are also pet lovers (cats and dogs, typically). Bartonella is a bacterium associated with “cat scratch fever” – a condition that occurs as a result of infection with Bartonella bacteria after being scratched by a cat or dog. Fleas, however, can also carry this bacterium.
Recently, researchers at North Carolina State University have found that Bartonella infections, specifically a type of Bartonella called B. Henselae that can be carried in a cat’s blood for years may be responsible for leading to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Of the 296 study participants, 62% tested positive for antibodies, which tell of prior exposure and 41% had bacterial DNA in their blood samples. The findings require further studies for greater clarification, but if Bartonella proves to be a causative factor in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, then treatment for Bartonella will open up another avenue to both prevent and treat RA. As of yet, I have not recommended my patients be tested for Bartonella antibodies, but will follow this research closely if it becomes an avenue of treatment for RA.
Cartilage Strength: Recently studies out of Boise State University have identified certain proteins that are responsible for maintaining cartilage strength. People with osteoarthritis experience wearing and break down of joint cartilage. Cartilage helps the joints move properly and cushions the joints.
A specific protein, Collagen XI, is known to prevent arthritis and when it is deficient, or absent, people can develop OA early in life. Knowing which other proteins Collagen XI interacts with is significant in maintaining, and/or restoring the protein content within the cartilage, helping prevent joint replacement, and/or treat OA. In other research out of University of Wisconsin, Madison, researchers have made super-strong collagen which they are perfecting for the treatment of OA and other collagen-deficit conditions.
How To Minimize Painful Flare-Ups
My patients are often surprised when I tell them that their particular diet, their emotions, and their excess pounds can be causing painful RA flares and aggravating osteoarthritis. Here are some things you should know:
Common Food Culprits: Refined sugar (cookies, cakes, candy, etc), animal fats, Omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, corn oil, present in commercial products, snacks, etc), trans fats (often found in commercial baked goods). Omit, reduce these culprits as much as possible. Replace with good Omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce/prevent inflammation.
Emotions: Stress caused by high-charged emotional situations (good or bad) can cause RA symptoms to flare. Try and keep an even keel in your emotions. Sleep 6-8 hours a night and get enough exercise to burn off stress.
Obesity: Did you know that 1 lb equals 4 lbs of pressure on your knee joints? That’s correct. In fact, 1 in 3 obese adults have arthritis. Work to get your weight within normal limits to decrease the pressure, and wear/tear of your knees (and hip) joints and avoid joint replacement. Be sure Vitamin C levels are good to help build/keep healthy collagen levels in joints.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are difficult conditions to live with. However, many Americans are managing better with close attention to nutrition, stress levels, and controlling their weight. In fact, most Americans with both forms of arthritis are employed full-time and living an active lifestyle. Regular physical activity helps prevent the pain and stiffness of arthritis and improves mood. Recent research findings may open all new avenues of treatment for arthritis to further help you live a fuller, happier life.
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Obesity Epidemic Fueling Rise in Rheumatoid Arthritis, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120425192849.htm
Bartonella Infection Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120423131848.htm
Arthritis – Take Action! http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ArthritisAwareness/
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