January 20, 2017

Osteoarthritis: Taking Care of Degenerative Joints

Repairing Cartilage to Heal Joints

by Scott Saunders

The word “arthritis” conjures up images of gnarled fingers and chronic pain.  But it actually means any joint inflammation.  There are over 200 known causes and types of arthritis.  People can get arthritis from any inflammation in their bodies, such as:

  • Infections
  • Psoriasis
  • Deficiencies
  • Toxins
  • Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Degenerative joints
  • Genetics
  • Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Metabolic issues (gout)
  • Allergies
  • And many others

Osteoarthritis Symptoms However, we are going to focus on the most common type of arthritis: osteoarthritis, or degenerative joints.

Osteoarthritis

Have you ever seen bumps or knobs on people’s finger joints? Those nearest the fingernail are called Heberden’s Nodes. Enlargement of the middle joints are called Bouchard’s Nodes.

These boney swellings are an enlargement of the cartilage in the joint.  It feels like very hard rubber but generally isn’t painful.  Many things damage the cartilage:

  • Injury
  • Inflammation
  • Lack of blood flow

Where there is any kind of injury and the cartilage is unable to repair itself correctly, the cartilage continues to enlarge as it attempts to repair. At this point, this knobby bony deformity is not damaged or inflamed, such as with most other types of arthritis. It is simply unable to repair itself. A very common early sign of osteoarthritis are these types of nodes.
People with osteoarthritis may experience the following symptoms:

  • Enlarged cartilage
  • Pain is often worse after exercise or pressure on the joint
  • Grating or crackling like sand in the joint when moved
  • Morning stiffness

However, these symptoms are usually only noticed later in the development of the disease.  Often there are no early symptoms, even though x-rays can show joint damage.  The reason for this is because the cartilage is degenerating for lack of nutrients, energy, or use. But since there are no pain nerves in cartilage you don’t feel it breaking down. When you do feel pain, it is because the cartilage has completely worn away and the bones are rubbing against each other. Bones have lots of pain nerves. That is when the worst symptoms of osteoarthritis start to manifest: pain, stiffness and swelling.

For this reason it is very important not to wait until you have lots of symptoms to take care of degenerative joints.  If your knee is not working properly, it can be helped early-on, but may require surgical replacement if you wait too long. 

Osteoarthritis Causes 

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8 Healing Remedies to Repair Joints

Take care of your joints in order to protect your mobility

Joints are the most remarkable structures!  Each joint is specifically engineered to perform an exact motion to allow our bodies to function in so many capacities.  Bones rubbing against each other would just wear out easily, but we have cartilage to protect them and to move smoothly.  This cartilage is an amazing combination of proteins and sugars that can take tremendous pressure.  A knee, for example, has to take 400 LBS of pressure while running –  if you weigh only 100 LBS.

Moreover, we have a viscous fluid, like motor oil or grease, which keeps the joints lubricated and prevents wear and tear.  It is a starch-like substance that hardens with pressure and protects the cartilage from damage by spreading-out the impact.

Another part of the wonder of the joint is that it can repair itself.  When damage is done to cartilage, there are living “chondrocytes” or cells that reproduce cartilage for healing and repairing.  Some damage, such as tears may not be readily repaired, but joints that are worn down to the bone may still be able to replace the cartilage and repair the joint.(1) One study using MRI to measure joint cartilage showed that cartilage could grow back over time.(2)

These studies do not evaluate the reason why some people grew back new cartilage; however, they do prove that it CAN.  Without any treatment, over a third of people repaired their cartilage!

The next question is can we help more people to generate these repairs?  The answer is: yes!  Many of the principles of joint repair are known, allowing most people to avoid the inevitable decline in function from aging joints.

Joint Damaging Drugs

I was a carpenter before going to medical school, so I built my own house over about three years.  I was amazed that before I even finished the house it was already needing repairs.  Things degrade over time and anyone who owns property knows that they need constant attention and repair.  You may think that you don’t need joint repair, so this doesn’t apply to you. However, remember that any weight-bearing activity, such as walking, puts tremendous strain on joints. So, just like my house, joints need to repair constantly. Let’s first start with what NOT to do in order to repair your joints.

There is an irony in the vicious cycle of pain and damage to joints: the very drugs prescribed for arthritis actually prevent you from repairing the joint.  It turns out that the NSAIDs, including aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, COX2 inhibitors (Celebrex, Mobic) and so forth, inhibit prostaglandins that cause inflammation, which in turn decreases the pain, redness, and swelling that comes from injuries to the tissues.

However, these anti-inflammatory drugs also prevent increased blood flow that brings healing oxygen and cells to the tissues, as well as prevent the formation of collagen, the strong protein that is required for healing fibrous tissue like bones, tendons and joints.(3) It doesn’t matter whether you take a little or a lot – even the smallest dose in the study prevented healing.

The take-away message here is to avoid any of the anti-inflammatory drugs!

Repairing Joint Mobility with Supplements

If you can’t take aspirin for arthritis, then what can you do?  Good question. I’m glad you asked!

natural joint anti inflammatoriesNatural Anti-inflammatories

There is a way to decrease the inflammation without preventing healing. These joint supplements have been tested in multiple ways with positive track records.  We suggest the following natural anti-inflammatories:

  1. Omega-3 oils
  2. Turmeric (or curcumin)
  3. Boswellia (frankincense)
  4. White willow bark

Repair supplements

Controversy abounds in the area of joint supplements.  There are many “joint formulas” that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, calcium, and other ingredients.  It is surprising to me that there should be any controversy at all because there is no risk to taking these supplements.  Let’s take a look.[am4show guest_error=’noaccess’]

Glucosamine Sulfate
I have had many patients with arthritis of the knees or hips who get pain relief by using glucosamine.  I usually have them go on a low-glucose diet so as not to inhibit the absorption, metabolism and action of the glucosamine.  This entails not having sugars or starches.  The diet seems to double the benefit of the supplements, allowing more glucosamine to become the GAG (glycosaminoglycans that make new connective tissue) needed to repair joints.  We’ll discuss the diet later.

Chondroitin

One of the building blocks of cartilage is chondroitin.  By itself, it does not repair the joints; we only take it to give the chondrocytes (cartilage repair cells) the building blocks needed for repair.

MSM

Collagen is a very strong fiber. By weight, it is stronger than steel!  However, it needs sulfur cross-links to each of the fibers to achieve this remarkable strength.  Many people are deficient in this sulfur.

Years ago, there was a paper mill that leached a solvent called DMSO into the water in the area.  People noticed that the deer had stronger hides and research was done as to the cause.  It turns out that DMSO is a sulfur supplement that is readily used by the body in making very strong collagen.  MSM is another sulfur supplement that allows a strong repair.

When we don’t have the ability to cross-link these fibers, the body makes keratin, the same protein that makes up your hair, nails and skin.  Keratin is strong, but doesn’t have the tensile strength of collagen, so the repair made by this scar-tissue is easily damaged and re-injured.

Repair Joints with Exercise

There have been many published studies on the effects of exercise on cartilage.  Basically, the more you exercise, the more cartilage is able to repair and build.  The studies are clear that a sedentary lifestyle decreases the “proteoglycans” (the protective molecules) in the cartilage and leads to fissures and wearing. (4)

Thus, regular, daily exercise has been shown to prevent cartilage wear-and-tear. Click to tweet this.

The joints remain more movable and pliable, and don’t wear down.

The amount of exercise is less important – you don’t need to kill yourself on the first day by trying an Iron Man Triathlon.  Just start simply and work up.  There needs to be some pressure on the joints, for example, walking is good for the knees.  Some amount of weight-bearing is helpful which indicates the benefit of exercises that include weights.  Good ol’ calisthenics that use the body weight to exercise the muscle groups is the best for the joints.  These are the things we did in PE class: push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, and so forth.  The key is to increase gradually.

Exercise is essential to protecting and repairing joints.

Food Choices That Heal the Joints

50 kinds of arthritisWhat you eat is essential for the health of your joints.  You must provide the building blocks needed to repair damage to joints.  Food also affects the circulation and the life of the cells.  If there is chronic inflammation anywhere in the body, then it usually affects the joints.  There are over 50 different causes of arthritis including:

  1. Diabetes
  2. Crohn’s disease
  3. Psoriasis
  4. Food allergies or sensitivities
  5. Imbalance in omega-3 and omega-6 oils
  6. Vitamin deficiencies
  7. Ulcerative colitis

And so forth…  Notice that all of these health problems are different forms of inflammation, or lead to inflammation.  It is essential to eat a diet that doesn’t contribute to inflammation.

The best way to prevent inflamed joints in the first place is simple.

1. There are certain types of foods that promote inflammation and should be avoided altogether.  Vegetable oils such as corn oil, soy oil, and safflower oil contain high amounts of omega-6 fats that promote inflammation.  Sugar is also a big promoter of inflammation that can affect the joints and cause arthritis. Avoid these foods to control joint inflammation:

  • Sugars
  • Starches
  • Vegetable oils

2. Eat whole, organic foods every day.

3. It is essential to use lots of spices in your cooking.  As noted above, turmeric is a spice that rivals NSAID drugs in its ability to decrease inflammation.  Many other spices are useful, as well.  For example, cinnamon helps you use sugar properly so you don’t build up insulin resistance and prevent joint healing.

8 Healing Remedies to Repair Joints

healing jointsWhether you’re trying to bone up on nutrients to help prevent osteoporosis, maintain healthy cartilage, or ease the discomfort of immobilized joints, the following joint healing protocol may help.

  1. Don’t use NSAIDs.
  2. Take Boswellia for pain.
  3. Exercise every day, including weight bearing routines and plenty of walking.
  4. Take an omega-3 supplement – alternate between fish oil and flax seeds.
  5. Avoid vegetable oils.
  6. Avoid sugar.
  7. Eat fresh, raw, organic food as much as possible.
  8. Take the following joint supplements (the exact amounts can vary, and a combination is fine) for 90 days:
  • Glucosamine: 500 mg three times per day
  • MSM: 500 mg three times per day
  • Vitamin C: 500 mg three times per day

This program will allow you to heal your joints, build cartilage, and prevent arthritis.  There is no need to decline in your “declining years.”  It is NOT normal to have joint pains and stiffness.  You can take your life back and enjoy your entire life to the end.

Dr. Scott SaundersDr. Scott D. Saunders, M.D. (Ask-an-MD) is a practicing physician, specializing in preventative health care, who utilizes eclectic health care for the whole family, including conventional, orthomolecular and natural medicine. He is also the medical director of The Integrative Medical Center of Santa Barbara in Lompoc, CA. He went to UCLA medical school and is board certified in family medicine. View natural remedies with Dr. Saunders at: http://drsaundersmd.com
(1)   http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=410037
(2)   http://rheumatology.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/1/79.full.pdf
(3)   Simon AM, O’Connor JP. Dose and time-dependent effects of cyclooxygenase-2 inhibition on fracture-healing. J Bone Joint Surg (Am) 2007;89:500-11.
(4)   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9811063
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