Written by Carmela Pengelly, dietary therapist and nutritional therapist.
Trained in the UK, Carmela now lives in Perth, Western Australia, where she practices as a nutritionist, specializing in SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), methylation issues, and vegan/vegetarian diets. She also offers consultations outside of Australia, via Skype.
Freedom to move without pain or discomfort makes a huge difference to our quality of life. In this discussion, we look at ways to nourish your joints and suggest natural remedies to ease the symptoms of joint disorders. We’ll look at not only the most common problems that lead to join pain, but the diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your quality of life.
ANATOMY OF A JOINT
Our joints are amazing mechanisms.
A joint is formed where two bones meet. A layer of cartilage lines the ends of the bones to stop them from rubbing together and to act as shock absorbers.
Most joints are surrounded by a capsule filled with synovial fluid. This special fluid provides cushioning and helps keep the bones apart from each other. Ligaments hold the whole joint in place, keeping the joint stable.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint problem and is considered the fastest growing cause of disability worldwide. Around 8.5 million people in the UK are affected, according to the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Sadly, osteoarthritis is an inescapable side-effect of old-age, with more than half of all 65 year olds and nearly everyone over 75 showing signs of joint degeneration.
Osteoarthritis is where cartilage starts to erode and become uneven, either due to natural wear and tear (aging), overuse, or the result of an injury. The bones are no longer protected by their cartilaginous lining and can grind together when you move.
Inflammation results, causing a vicious cycle of more tissue destruction and more inflammation – and for the sufferer – more pain, swelling and immobility.
An even more debilitating disease is rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder where our own immune system attacks the joints.
Other common joint ailments include:
An extremely painful condition where uric acid, which is a by-product of metabolism, forms crystals and builds up in the joints.
Psoriasis mainly presents as a skin disease but it can be accompanied by arthritic symptoms in around one third of sufferers, according to the US National Psoriasis Foundation.
Like rheumatoid arthritis, this is an autoimmune disease but it is usually confined to immune system attacks to the spine.
5 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR JOINTS HEALTHY
- STOP FUELING THE FIRE
Inflammation is a key player in nearly every joint disorder.
We need inflammation to fight infection and repair injuries. However, if it gets out of hand, it behaves like an uncontrolled fire in our bodies.
Natural fresh foods act as fire fighters, blocking the inflammatory cascade and promoting the release of anti-inflammatory substances.
Green leafy vegetables
Highly coloured fruits and vegetables (peppers, carrots, pumpkin, melon, berries)
Starchy carbs (bread, biscuits, rice, pasta)
Cocoa (can be small amounts of chocolate)
Herbs and spices (basil, rosemary, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric)
Burnt or BBQ’d foods
HOW TO BE A PLANT EATER
If you’re not sure how to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, try this easy plan as a starting point.
Smoothie made with your choice of non-dairy milk, handful of frozen berries, tablespoon of cocoa, pinch of ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric (or whatever spices you have to hand), natural sweetener if you need it (e.g Stevia or Erythritol), scoop of Nu U Nutrition collagen protein powder.
Salad using as many salad vegetables as you have in your fridge. Throw in chopped chives or spring onions, herbs, or capers. Add some protein, such as: a couple of boiled eggs; cooked meat; smoked salmon slices; a small tin of tuna or salmon; a large handful of cooked beans, lentils or chickpeas. Add a little extra virgin olive oil if you want.
Fresh meat or fish served with as many vegetables as you can fit on your plate. Add flavor using lots of fresh, chopped herbs, and a little butter or olive oil.
- LOSE THE WEIGHT
Imagine picking up a 5 kg bag of potatoes and taking it to the shops and back. This seems like an exhausting and ridiculous task, but it illustrates how, by being just a little bit overweight, we put so much extra strain on our joints.
Add to that the fact that obesity is an inflammatory disease, throwing more fuel onto the internal fire.
- CULTIVATE GOOD GUT FLORA
Our gut flora has a much greater influence over our bodies than just the digestive system. Beneficial bacteria actually regulate our immune system and exert anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body.
This is particularly important for autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system becomes overactive.
- DRINK BONE BROTH
Bone broth contains a complete range of amino acids that our body can assemble to make collagen. Collagen is a key component of connective tissue, including cartilage, bone, blood vessels and ligaments.
There are plenty of good quality pre-made bone broths on the market now but if you want to make your own, make sure you choose organic bones (chicken or beef) and boil for at least 8 hours.
- KEEP UP THE GOOD FATS
Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, effectively put the brakes on inflammation and prevent it from getting out of control.
They also promote tissue repair, helping you to maintain healthy joints.
Our Western diet is typically high in Omega 6 fatty acids, mainly from processed foods and vegetable oils, which promote inflammation. Boosting our Omega 3 intake by eating oily fish twice a week (salmon, mackerel and trout) and taking a good quality fish oil supplement helps to redress the fatty acid balance.
EXERCISE – GOOD OR BAD?
There is no doubt that overuse of joints can lead to permanent wear and tear. Injury, sustained when over-exercising, can lead to chronic inflammation and osteoarthritis in the damaged joint.
However, we are built to move and regular moderate exercise is very good for joint health.
The benefits of exercise include:
- NOURISHING JOINTS
Our joints contain living tissue which needs a good supply of nutrients and oxygen. Exercise increases circulation, allowing a greater flow of blood, and hence nutrients, to the joints.
Exercise builds muscle and we need strong muscles around the joints to improve their stability. Weak quad muscles have been identified as a common risk factor for osteoarthritis in the knee in women.
- ENCOURAGES GROWTH AND REPAIR
Evidence suggests that moderate exercise stimulates production of chondrocytes to build cartilage. Lack of exercise has the opposite effect, causing cartilage to atrophy.
3 WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR JOINTS DURING EXERCISE
- VARIETY IS THE KEY
Repetitive exercise is not only boring, it will increase risk of damage and injury. Vary your exercise routine over the week.
If you’re training for a marathon or other endurance event, quality rather than quantity will still get results if done properly. Try the FIRST training program developed by Furman University in the US, which advocates a ‘run less, run faster’ approach.
- DON’T SKIMP ON SHOES
Invest in the best shoes you can afford to suit your activity. Most specialised sports shops will give you expert fittings to help you find the appropriate shoes.
- DON’T LOSE ‘FORM’
Proper form during exercise is where you hold your body in the right way and move correctly. Good form helps to protect you from over-straining the joints and reduces your risk of injury.
You will tend to lose form if you exercise to exhaustion. It’s a better long-term strategy to stop exercising when you’re too tired to do it correctly.
NATURAL REMEDIES FOR SORE JOINTS
Nature provides its own medicine cabinet of analgesics and anti-inflammatories without the side-effects.
A review of over 20 controlled clinical trials involving 6000 osteoarthritis sufferers showed glucosamine to be as good as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g aspirin and ibuprofen) in relieving pain and functional impairment.
TURMERIC – THE WONDER HERB
Turmeric used to be something that you just added to a curry, but it has become so popular now that you can even buy turmeric ice-cream. Its rising popularity is due to the plethora of wide-ranging health benefits it offers.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
- Protecting against cancer
- Protecting the liver
- Easing depression
- Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Protecting against Alzheimer’s
- Improving the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Controlling blood sugar in diabetes
This wonder herb has been shown to be as effective as anti-inflammatory drugs and in some cases more effective than standard anti-inflammatories.
People are adding turmeric powder to everything they eat and this has certain pros and cons. The pros are that you will benefit greatly from all the nutrients the whole spice contains. For example, high levels of antioxidants from polyphenols.
The disadvantage is that the curcumin component of the spice is hard to absorb and metabolise in its natural form. A therapeutic dose of curcumin is about 500 mg. You would have to eat over 13 teaspoons of turmeric powder to get the same dose of curcumin.
For this reason, a good quality curcumin supplement like Nu U Nutrition Turmeric Curcumin is superior to its food equivalent.
Applying essential oils topically can be a great way to help localized pain and inflammation, and research confirms that the active ingredients of these oils can be absorbed very readily through the skin.
Frankincense has a beautiful aroma and can be applied to the skin near the joint. Other pain relieving oils include mint, ginger, black cumin and orange.
The best way to apply the oils is to dilute 1-2 drops of an oil in around 3 drops of a carrier oil, such as almond oil or fractionated coconut oil.
WHAT ELSE CAN JOINT PAIN BE TELLING YOU?
Joint pain can often accompany other seemingly unrelated health disorders and can be nothing to do with wear and tear of joints.
Some possible causes can be:
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Lyme disease
- Food intolerances
Whatever your concerns, know that joint pain is caused by a combination of potential health issues. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and focus on natural, whole foods can help address many aches and pains in the body. You should also speak with a doctor about any discomforts or pain you feel on a recurring basis in your body.