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Alternatives for arthritis sufferers
Juliet Allaway  , Friday, April 2, 2004

The number of arthritis sufferers is expected to increase dramatically as the baby boom generation ages. Currently, over 85 per cent of people over the age of 70 suffer from osteoarthritis and  in the UK one-third of prescriptions are written for arthritis medications. The personal and economic impact of arthritis is  staggering.

Are you an arthritis candidate?
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is caused by the wear and tear produced by intense physical activity, physical trauma and/or aging. The fluid that bathes the cartilage, known as synovial fluid thins out and loses its protective qualities and the damaged cartilage wears down until the ends of the bone literally meet and grind together.
The body’s attempts to stablise the joint give rise to the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes) which cause stiffness and limit movement. The disease affects weight-bearing joints – hips, feet, knees and spine, and the hands are also commonly affected due to the amount of work they perform.
Growing older, being overweight, physical inactivity, being female as well as genetic make up and inadequate nutrition are also risk factors.

Medications pose serious dangers
The most commonly prescribed medications for arthritis are NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and their sub-class, the Cox II inhibitors. While these drugs are frequently able to control arthritis-related pain and reduce inflammation, the side effects are often severe. In fact, more people die each year from complications caused by arthritis than from the condition itself, often NSAID-induced ulcers.
Cox-2 inhibitors (Vioxx, Celebrex, Movicox, etc.), although classified in the NSAID category, do not cause the high incidence of gastrointestinal blood loss that true NSAIDs do. However, studies indicate that these drugs can increase the risk of heart attacks for some people, and may also contribute to gastrointestinal bleeding. More research is required before these drugs can be confirmed as truly beneficial.
What are the
Lifestyle modifications and natural medications can be a realistic source of relief for some people. There is little doubt that most people would prefer to control arthritis pain and stiffness without the help of prescription drugs, even if negative side effects were not an issue.

Avoid too much sun
Unprotected sun exposure for longer than 15 minutes is linked with immune suppression. This is why cold sores often appear following time spent in the sun. If you must sit out in the sun, wear a sunscreen of SPF 15 or over.

Including regular exercise in your life is always important, but even more so if you have arthritis. All categories of exercise (aerobic, strength and flexibility) can help arthritis sufferers. If joint discomfort hampers your ability to move, then plan to build some activity into the times of day when you feel less pain.
Muscles and other tissues that support the joints weaken when they are not moved enough, causing the joint to lose its shape and function. With loss of shape and function comes increased wear and tear on joint tissue. Exercise helps to palliate the symptoms of osteoarthritis, making you feel better overall. Moderate stretching exercises including supervised yoga and Pilates, will help relieve the pain and keep the muscles and tendons around the affected joint stronger and more flexible. Low impact exercises like swimming, walking, water aerobics and stationary cycling can all reduce pain while maintaining strength and flexibility. Always consult a doctor before beginning a new exercise programme.

Protect your joints
Learn to listen to your body and cease any activity that gives rise to pain. Alternate heavy or repetitive tasks with easier ones and build breaks into your daily schedule. Take advantage of the many helpful devices designed for arthritis sufferers such as jar openers and wide handled mugs. Use shopping trolleys and carts for carrying heavy loads and use straight, high backed chairs with a high seat to enable you to push off from a sitting position.

Control your weight
When you are lighter, the stress on your joints is reduced, particularly your knees and other weight bearing joints. Reduced stress means less pain and weight loss is a helpful by product of increased activity.

Revise your diet
By adding more raw seeds such as pumpkin and flax and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines to your food intake you will be promoting omega 3 fatty acids. Increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, eat more legumes (beans, peas), cut down on foods rich in animal fats, particularly fatty meats (beef, pork) and high fat dairy products.

Learn to relax
Learn to relax and cope better and you will contribute to the sensation of being in control of your arthritis. Try breathing deeply, listening to relaxing music or special tapes or visualise yourself lying on a warm beach or by a peaceful lake.

Use heat and cold
Applying heat and cold to your joints can give some temporary relief to pain and stiffness. Heat will help to relax sore or aching muscles and cold will numb them. Remember to place a towel or cloth between your skin and the source of heat or cold to avoid tissue damage.

Position joints wisely
This will help avoid excessive joint stress. Use your back, arms and legs to avoid straining the joints. Carry heavy loads close to your body, use grab bars and shower seats in the bathroom to conserve energy and avoid falls. Use large stronger joints to take the strain – use a shoulder bag instead of a handheld one, avoid staying in the same position for a long time.

Stop smoking
Studies show that the risk of women developing rheumatoid arthritis is nearly double for smokers compared to non-smokers. Since smoking affects the health of all tissues, kicking the habit will help restore health and vitality.

Drink more tea and red wine
Green tea can help stop the pain and inflammation of arthritis is the conclusion of a study carried out in Sheffield by Dr David Buttle. Two compounds found in green tea, EGCG and ECG can help prevent osteoarthritis by blocking the enzyme that destroys cartilage (this is the Cox II inhibitor). Resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, is a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent aging of the tissues. Although more research is required, making sure your diet includes resveratol may well reduce your chances of developing osteoarthritis and other age-related diseases.
Recent studies have also shown that high levels of vitamin A, C and E in your diet may help halt osteoarthritis.


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