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Arthritis and natural health

If you’re suffering from joint pain or osteoarthritis, don’t despair. These natural supplements, home remedies and healthy foods can help you control the pain so that you can live life to the fullest. 

The process of inflammation is actually a good thing. In theory. It is your body’s way to protect itself from unwanted invaders, like bacteria and viruses.

 But here’s where it gets tricky. 

In some diseases – like arthritis – this natural defence system (your immune system) triggers inflammation when there are no unwelcomed visitors to fend off. 

These types of autoimmune diseases trick your body into thinking that your tissues are somehow under attack, causing damage and a lot of pain. 

Inflammation can be either short-term (acute) or can last a long time (chronic). Chronic inflammation can last for months or even years, long after that initial trigger is gone. That means chronic pain with very little you can do but tolerate it or medicate to numb it.

Tackling symptoms of inflammation – joint swelling, pain and stiffness – can be a life-long challenge. But natural treatments have been proven to control and relieve symptoms of the disease process.

What is arthritis?

There are many types of arthritis, but the two most common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This article will address osteoarthritis (which involves wear and tear on cartilage and joints) vs. rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease).

Osteoarthritis is the form of arthritis that is caused by inflammation, breakdown and loss of cartilage in the joints, most commonly in the arms and legs. If you suffer from osteoarthritis and joint pain, there are some natural remedies you can use to help relieve the pain and swelling.

The importance of physical activity

While you might think that physical activity might cause more wear and tear on your joints, in fact the opposite is true. Keeping active can actually help you relieve joint pain and strengthen your joints. Research shows that exercise is the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in people with osteoarthritis. 

Three types of exercise that are particularly beneficial for people with osteoarthritis.  

Each of these kinds of exercise plays a role in maintaining and improving your ability to move and function on a daily basis. 

Range of motion exercises. Range of motion refers to the ability to move your joints through the full motion they were designed to achieve. The pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis can make it difficult to move certain joints more than just a little bit, which can make even simple tasks challenging. Range of motion exercises include gentle stretching and turning movements that take joints through their full span. These exercises are practiced on the joints in your neck, arms and wrists, and knees and ankles.

Aerobic exercises. These exercises strengthen your heart and make your lungs more efficient and carry oxygen to your muscles. They also are known to reduce feelings of fatigue, and help you sleep better. Examples of aerobic exercises include brisk walking or jogging, bicycling, swimming, dancing, and sports such as hockey and basketball.

Resistance exercises. These exercises help maintain and improve your muscle strength. This is important, because strong muscles can support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis. Examples of resistance exercises include exercise with weight machines and weightlifting.

Performing these types of exercises regularly – ideally, every day or every other day – can help maintain and even improve the flexibility in your joints. Remember, though, if you’re thinking of starting or ramping up an exercise regimen, it’s important begin slowly and increase your level of physical activity gradually. Always talk to your healthcare team before beginning a new exercise regimen. 

Natural treatments for joint pain

If you have osteoarthritis, consider these natural remedies, which can help relieve pain and reduce the joint inflammation that is associated with osteoarthritis.

  • Indian frankincense (also known as boswellia serrata) contains boswellic acid, which has both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study showed that extract of boswellia serrata significantly reduced pain and improved physical functioning in people with osteoarthritis.

  • Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which helps to reduce joint pain and swelling. A 2010 study using a turmeric supplement showed long-term improvement in pain and increased physical functioning in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. 
  • Vitamin D is essential for bone and cartilage health, and a deficiency can lead to osteoarthritis. While we usually get our Vitamin D from sunlight, our cold and dark Canadian winters can lead to a deficiency. That’s why it’s important to get Vitamin D from the foods you eat (including fatty fish, dairy products and egg yolks), or consider a supplement – especially during the winter months. 

Home remedies

Applying either heat or cold to sore and weary joints can provide a great deal of comfort. Taking a warm bath or applying cold compresses to painful joints can both provide pain relief. Alternating between heat and cold – i.e. applying a heating pad, and then a cold compress – is also very helpful. 

As well, gently massaging painful joints helps increase blood flow to the affected areas and eases soreness. 

Food for thought

While no single diet can cure arthritis, some foods have been shown to fight inflammation, strengthen bones and boost the immune system. Adding these foods to your daily diet might help ease joint aches and pains.

Some types of fish – such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring – are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation. Aim for a serving of three to four ounces of fish twice a week.

Dairy products are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Calcium helps to prevent brittle bones (osteoporosis), while Vitamin D helps to increase bone strength and also boosts the immune system. Excellent sources of calcium and Vitamin D include cheese, milk and yogurt.

Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, a compound that has anti-inflammatory properties.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (for example, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and cauliflower) contain a compound called sulforaphane; recent research shows that this compound may play a role in preventing or slowing the progression of osteoarthritis.

Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits and limes, are all rich in vitamin C, which helps maintain joint health. 

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