The basic function of any joint is to allow for movement. When joints swell, it’s because fluid has accumulated in the joint. Bleeding in the joints usually follows some form of trauma and micro-trauma can occur due to repeated action of a joint, most frequently the wrist, fingers or elbow.
Because joints contain many pain receptors, swelling is usually painful, at least initially, as the skin over the joint will of course be stretched. The main cause of concern is the onset of limited movement, making everyday activities difficult. Steroids and anti-inflammatories may reduce the symptoms initially, but come with side effects.
Several studies have found that certain supplements greatly benefit joint health. It is an individual choice really as specific nutraceuticals can be taken in high concentrations on their own, and others work best in combination. Your supplement programme will depend on your age, stage of joint condition, other health issues and medication you are currently taking. Speak to your health care professional about the following options:
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring form of dietary sulphur and is deficient in foods grown in greenhouses or in foods grown through irrigation. MSM is volatile and destroyed by cooking. MSM has a reputation of building collagen and maintaining healthy joints by rebuilding connective tissue with elastic sulphur bonds. MSM neutralises foreign proteins (i.e. allergens, toxins, undigested food) making it anti-inflammatory in action and works particularly well in conjunction with foods rich in vitamin C.
- Beta glucans are a specific type of polysaccharide (glyconutrient) similar to those found in goji berries, medicinal mushrooms, kelp and Aloe vera. Once the ‘key' of a beta glucan fits into the ‘lock' of the receptor site on an immune cell, a specific immune response is generated. The different shapes of these beta glucans produce a wide array of immune responses.
- Essential fatty acids have been documented as a treatment for arthritis as far back as 1783. Their strong anti-inflammatory properties significantly reduce inflammation. Together with olive oil intake, the benefits of fish oil supplementation are further enhanced.
- Curcumin, the active component in turmeric (Curcuma longa), is a popular wound-repair ingredient. It is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, antiviral and anti-infectious. It is also a detoxifying agent.
- Glucosamine (found in Aloe Vera, for example) can ease joint pain by improving the health of the cartilage. As we age, our body’s ability to manufacture the glucosamine (building blocks of cartilage) decreases, resulting in a gradual deterioration of joints. Supplementing with glucosamine stimulates joint repair and also reportedly lubricates joints by keeping cartilage pliable. In some cases it is more effective than anti-inflammatories.
- Chondroitin sulphate, often added to glucosamine compounds, enhances the action of glucosamine. With no side-effects noted, glucosamine and chondroitin may be used for long periods of time.
- Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a key component of your cartilage, responsible for moving nutrients into your cells and moving waste out.
- Antioxidants are easily available with different formulations. Look for ones that include the powerful antioxidants vitamins A, E and C, phytonutrient complex, grape seed extract, alpha-lipoic acid and co-enzyme-Q10. Reputable formulations are developed with the various nutrients in the correct ratios – follow the recommended dosage. Astaxanthin is one of the most powerful lipophilic antioxidants yet discovered and is the most abundant carotenoid pigment found in crabs, salmon, trout, shrimps, prawns and krill; it is now available in supplements. Studies have found that it can help support joint health and mobility.
- NEM® (eggshell membrane) as a nutraceutical to protect, treat, and repair connective tissues, or to reduce joint pain and inflammation related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other joint disorders is fairy new. We reviewed the product Flexofend, click here to view.
- Other supplements that are beneficial in joint heath include: vitamin D, magnesium, mangosteen, and Boswellia.
- Essential oils can help aching joints and speed healing. The Journal of Inflammation published a study that found that external application of geranium essential oil ‘can suppress the inflammatory symptoms’. The researchers found that lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree oils also suppressed inflammation, but not to the same extent as the geranium did.
THE ROLE OF FOOD
Certain foods play a role in fighting infectious organisms (for example garlic fights viruses, pau d'arco kills fungus, coconut oil dissolves certain types of bacteria). Our diet may well play a role in fighting the organisms that affect our joints.
Just as certain foods and supplements can benefit joint health, so can making bad food choices potentially affect joints. To prevent joint problems, ensure that refined sugar, trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils), regular table salt, fizzy drinks, fast food, pasteurised dairy products, cooked conventional wheat and corn products, are removed from your diet.
According to nutritionist Lynn Brown: ‘Part of any anti-inflammation diet should include eating wild fish, taking a pharmaceutical grade fish oil and eating as many colourful fruits and vegetables as you can. Include sulphur-containing foods such as asparagus, eggs, garlic and onions, and avoid the nightshade vegetables such as green peppers, brinjals and tomatoes. Also drink green tea, and sprinkle ground flax seed and anti-inflammatory spices (turmeric, ginger, rosemary and cayenne) liberally on your food.’
The structure of a joint does not allow for much blood flow, causing low levels of oxygen. Pain occurs when surrounding tissues are damaged due to lack of oxygen. Together with a sensible diet and supplement programme, I would suggest light therapy and hot and cold packs to increase circulation to the joint area.
Light therapy, red and infrared, has become a trusted and effective non-invasive treatment for the relief of joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as other injuries. Light therapy reduces inflammation, improves circulation and reduces healing time. Studies have shown that light therapy is beneficial for knee, shoulder, wrist, elbow and ankle joints as well as for inflammation and damage elsewhere on the body.1 The coMra (Coherent Multi-Radiances) device is a perfect tool for the effective treatment of both acute and chronic conditions.
Exercising a stiff, achy and painful joint may be the last thing you feel like doing, but there is a growing body of research that supports its beneficial effects. Strengthening the muscles around a knee joint by cycling can prevent injury and stabilise the joint. Yoga and pilates are good options, as well as swimming and other weight-bearing exercises in water.
Capsaicin, cayenne pepper’s most active ingredient, relieves arthritic symptoms and improves joint flexibility. Look for a cream containing capsaicin, apply onto the skin to relieve pain and increase flexibility.
Although our joints are complex structures and a certain amount of stress on them is inevitable, optimal management of their health will prevent accelerated degeneration. In addition to the measures described above, it may well be necessary to consult a chiropractor, osteopath, biokineticist or physiotherapist to assist with and speed up the rehabilitation of strained, sprained joints.
For more on inflammation, read the article: Inflammation – friend or foe? by Dr David Nye. Should you have arthritis, read the article by Jeanne van Zyl: Taking the Ache out of Arthritis Naturally.
- Redlightman. Light therapy improves arthritis dramatically.