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Good Nutrition – The Key to Living with Arthritis

Dr. Gordon Chang

Arthritis is usually considered to be a disease affecting the joints and connective tissue, yet there are three major forms of arthritis: gout, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Three Primary Forms of Arthritis

Gout is one of the most common but lesser known forms of arthritis and is caused by deposits of uric acid crystals in and around the joint area. Uric acid is a normal waste product flushed by the kidneys in the urine, but when there is an excess of uric acid in the body it forms into crystals and is deposited in the body anywhere convenient, but usually in the joints of the lower extremities, causing inflammation and moderate to severe pain. Gout is most common in men and in developed countries where the consumption of rich foods high in purine, a metabolic precursor to uric acid, is just one causative factor. Some foods that are high in purine and which should be avoided by those with gout are: caffeine; organ meats such as sweetbreads, liver, beef kidneys; seafood such as anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, scallops; meat; gravy; and even some vegetables and legumes such as asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, mushrooms, green peas, lentils, dried peas and beans.

Arthritis Information Chart

Osteoarthritis is usually found in older individuals. Osteoarthritis occurs when the tissue in the joint space degrades and is not replaced leading to a situation where the bones at the joint abrade against each other resulting in extreme pain and loss of mobility. Under normal circumstances the tissue in the joints are constantly being broken down and replaced by new tissue. It is believed by some researchers that in individuals with osteoarthritis the body diminishes in its ability to synthesize some of the key materials necessary for joint tissue replacement. This results in a joint that has a progressively thinner cartilage layer and also less synovial fluid between the bones in the joints, resulting in less lubrication in the joint spaces. The friction between the joints leads to inflammation and pain. (Often, this inflammation can cause more damage to the joint until the joint itself is destroyed.) It is thus vitally important that the inflammation of the joint tissue be addressed, thus controlling joint breakdown and giving joint repair and replacement a chance to get the upper hand.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the body's joints are inflamed and become progressively destroyed. It is believed that rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the body's own immune system attacks the joints. (The reason why the body's immune system attacks itself is not known.) Regardless of the cause, in the rheumatoid arthritic joint there is constant inflammation resulting in breakdown of the joint. This competes with the body's repair mechanisms that attempt to rebuild the tissue that is being broken down.

In all forms of arthritis it is important that inflammation be addressed, yet controlling the inflammation process is only part of the job. The body must also have the right raw materials in a sufficient quantity in order to repair the damaged joint.

The Importance of Glucosamine and Other Nutrients

One of the key ingredients necessary for cartilage repair is glucosamine. Normally, in healthy individuals, the body can produce sufficient glucosamine to provide for joint repair. Under arthritic conditions, the body's need for glucosamine increases. If the body cannot provide enough glucosamine to meet this increased need then the joint repair process suffers and you end up with a damaged joint.

There is no simple dietary source of glucosamine. The most common sources of glucosamine are in the shells and cartilage of crustaceans such as crab, lobster and shrimp. The major problem with these sources to provide glucosamine is that they are not easily digested. The other alternative is to obtain glucosamine as a dietary supplement. However not all forms of glucosamine are the same. In the human body all glucosamine exists in the D-isomer form. During the manufacturing process to make glucosamine from crustacean shells you get a mixture of D-glucosamine and L-glucosamine. Even though the body absorbs both D glucosamine and L glucosamine, it is only able to incorporate the D-glucosamine into the body tissue. The L-glucosamine is merely broken down and excreted. Therefore when choosing a glucosamine product ensure that it contains primarily D-glucosamine for maximum benefit.

Addressing the Inflammation of Arthritis

As stated earlier it is vitally important to control the inflammatory process, otherwise there will be further damage to the joint and inhibition of the joint repair process. There are several herbs that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects: Boswellia serrata, Yucca schidigera and Curcuma longa have all long been shown to provide anti-inflammatory relief from arthritis.

The mineral manganese has been shown to be important for naturally occurring anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant biochemical pathways in the body. The use of manganese is necessary as it allows the body to inhibit inflammation at its source and thus control the inflammation process more effectively.

The supplement Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM) is also useful to help control the inflammation. MSM provides the body with sulfur which is a key element in many compounds manufactured by the body to help control pain and inflammation.

There are also many other factors that contribute to the onset and severity of arthritis such as poor diet, obesity, lack of exercise, undiagnosed food allergies and food sensitivities, toxins from the environment, and toxins generated by the micro-organisms in the body. Being overweight and lack of exercise can be addressed by making wiser lifestyle choices. Undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities can be lessened by being tested for food intolerances then avoiding those foods that cause inflammation or allergic reaction. An overabundance of toxins in the body can be dealt with by doing liver, lung and kidney cleanses periodically to decrease the toxin burden to the key organs that detoxify the body. In addition, the intake of toxins to the body can be decreased by eating a wide variety of different types of fibre as fibre is known to bind to toxins and thereby inhibit toxin absorption in the body. The intestinal flora can be changed by increasing the intake of several different varieties of probiotics (good bacteria) such as, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus caesium and Bifidobacterium bifidus.

In conclusion, one can live with arthritis yet still have a high quality lifestyle. To control arthritic pain it is important to provide the body with the right nutrients for tissue repair; control and reduce the related joint and tissue inflammation; and assist the body in diminishing and detoxifying the body of toxic contaminants.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2006 Omega Alpha Pharmaceuticals Inc. Published with permission. Dr. Gordon Chang holds a Ph.D. in Physiology and Biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto and has years of post-doctoral experience in biochemistry.