There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. What they all have in common is some degree of inflammation and often some remodeling of bone under the cartilage. These factors decrease the durability and integrity of cartilage contributing to arthritis and both tend to progress with age. So, what can we do to reduce inflammation and decrease the remodeling of bone?
Suppressing Bone Remodeling in Arthritis
Let’s start with bone. We think of our bones like wood furniture. However, our bones are more like the tree the wood came from. Our bones are alive and changing very slowly but continuously throughout our lifetime. The rate of this turnover, new bone replacing old bone, is critical. If it turns over too fast the bone becomes rubbery and weak. If it turns over too slow it is brittle like chalk. When the remodeling rate is just right bone is very strong and stable.
Strong bone is critical for healthy cartilage. It is the foundation that cartilage sits on. If it becomes soft or brittle the cartilage begins to fall apart like a house on a rotten foundation. There are several key nutrients you need to ensure strong bone and optimal remodeling. They include vitamin D, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil, vitamin K and protein.
Vitamin D enhances the absorption of both phosphorus and calcium. Magnesium is more effective at preventing bone remodeling in animal models of menopause than calcium. Omega 3 fats also slow bone remodeling and are an underappreciated supplement to strengthen bone. Vitamin K traffics calcium into bone. Finally, animal protein has been shown to be more effective at protecting bone mass than other sources of protein. Protein intake below a minimal threshold is associated with increased bone remodeling as you borrow protein from the bone bank.
Americans tend to fall short of these nutrients because of lack of sun exposure, very low green vegetable consumption, inadequate consumption of fish high in omega 3 fats, and generally not enough lean animal protein (chicken, turkey, seafood, game meat or grass-fed livestock).
Suppressing Inflammation in Joints
What about inflammation? Remember most arthritis has some degree of inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis produces lots of inflammation, enough to cause damage to bones and deforming of joints in a short period of time. Osteoarthritis on the other hand produces less inflammation so it progresses much more slowly. In other words, inflammation accelerates the destruction of joints in arthritis; the greater the inflammation, the faster the destruction.
Why does inflammation increase with age? How can we decrease inflammation in our joints? Inflammation increases with age because of loss of growth hormone, an excess of insulin, and a resulting increase in body fat. Our primary focus in reducing inflammation should be to correct these imbalances. This requires exercise to release growth hormone, a dramatic reduction in the intake of all carbohydrates, eating less food and eating less often.
In addition to these obvious lifestyle changes there are some supplements that can spice up your lifestyle and dial down the heat of inflammation. The omega 3 fats DHA and EPA from fish oil have anti-inflammatory effects similar to taking Ibuprofen or Naproxen without the toxicity to your stomach or kidneys. To get this effect you need to take between 4000-8000 mg of combined DHA and EPA. More than 8000 mg can interfere with blood clotting.
Vitamin D is not only important for your bones but is also a potent immune regulator that helps suppress unwanted inflammation. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with more advanced osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin D deficiency is likely responsible for things like growing pains and other childhood aches and pains.
Have you ever accidentally taken a spoonful of soup only to get a mouth full of bay leaf? Recent studies show that Laurel (Laurus nobilis), the common bay leaf, is a potent anti-inflammatory. Laurel tea or supplements containing Laurus nobilis suppress things like prostaglandins, tumor necrosis factor and interleukins. So add it to foods for flavor and add it to your tea regularly.
A growing body of research shows that green tea, ginger, curcumin, turmeric, Boswellia and cat’s claw all have anti-inflammatory properties as well. Ginger, curcumin, and turmeric are wonderful spices to cook with but if they disagree with your palate, take a supplement to reduce the inflammation of arthritis.
Boswellia is the ancient spice frankincense. A recent study showed reduced pain and improved function as soon as a week after beginning a supplement of Boswellia. Symptoms continued to improve over the first three months of use. Frankincense is also used as incense and as aromatic oil.
Dosages of these herbal therapies have not been standardized for their anti-inflammatory effect, so it is difficult to recommend doses. Suffice it to say you would benefit from making them a regular part of your anti-inflammatory lifestyle.