Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Good News About Osteoarthritis

There is no illness that causes pain and disability more often than than osteoarthritis (OA). This progressive degenerative disease of the joints that everybody knows is estimated to affect forty million people in just the United States. Some epidemiologists estimate that eighty percent of Americans, and similar percentages of people in other countries, develop some degree of OA after the age of fifty.

Arthritis of the knee, referred to in the literature of sports medicine as chondromalacia patellae, strikes men and women at early in life, often before the age of thirty. The greatest risk factors for OA are intense physical activity at work, and overweight.

There are two kinds of OA, primary and secondary. The simple wear and tear of the tissues in and surrounding joints is primary osteoarthritis. Joints most frequently affected by OA are those that are in constant motion, like the joints in the toes and fingers, and those that bear weight.

The joint’s natural repair system sends out enzymes to dissolve defective components of cartilage, but eventually the joint’s ability to generate new collagen cannot keep up with the damage.

OA that is associated with some predisposing factor, such as injury, infection, fractures, overweight, birth defects in the structure of a joint (such as the so-called“double joints” or abnormally shapes in joint surfaces), trauma, gout, rheumatoid arthritis or septicemia is known as secondary OA. Estrogen replacement therapy, diabetes, and thyroid disease also increase the risk of OA.

The good news about OA is that, if it is treated early enough, it is frequently reversible. In fact, even advanced OA sometimes reverses itself with no treatment at all, natural or otherwise.

In the 1960’s, research physicians followed a group of patients whose X-rays identified narrow joint spaces indicating advanced OA in the hip. The doctors intentionally gave the patients no treatment at all for a period of 10 years. At the end of the 10-year study, 14 of 31 examinations showed that the hip had recovered its normal joint space with no treatment at all. The researchers commented that most patients showed marked clinical improvement.

For those who cannot take 10 years off to rest, natural therapies probably represent their best bet. You probably know about glucosamine and chondroitin, but relatively less mentioned are healing foods. High on the list of any non-vegetarian diet plan for OA are soup stocks.

When cartilage deteriorates, you are left with bone against bone. Soup stocks made from whole chickens provide glycosaminoglycans including a natural chondroitin sulfate.(Since the question comes up occasionally, I’ll explain that by “whole” chickens I am not referring to guts, eyes, and feathers, rather I mean the whole dressed bird or as much of the bird as available. Chicken feet and beaks are actually quite nutritious when cooked to make stock. They are not essential to a good stock.) Traditional, non-vegetarian soup stocks provide collagen and gelatin that help the synovial membranes buffer the joints.

Most naturopaths agree that the ideal metabolic state for healthy joints is slightly alkaline. A very slightly alkaline medium within the joint helps antioxidants work more effectively to relieve pain. You achieve this desirable, mild metabolic alkalosis by avoiding excesses of fat and sugar in your diet.

But while you should keep sugar and fat to a minimum, you benefit from spice. Ginger, oregano, rosemary, and turmeric all contain antioxidant compounds that rival the pain-relieving qualities of the once-popularCOX-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex (celecoxib) and Vioxx (refecocoxib). These spices also help relieve the oxidant stress caused by occasional overindulgence in the aforementioned sugar and fat.

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