Modern Strategies for Natural Joint Support
by Neil E. Levin, C.C.N., DANLA
Most know that glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, as well as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) are important components of joint health. Glucosamine and chondroitin help form spongy tissues that hold moisture and cushion the body's joints, protecting them from excessive wear and tear. MSM is a safe form of the mineral sulfur that may improve joint function and relieve joint pain over time.
People with osteoarthritis, however, typically may have low levels of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, and may benefit by supplementing to restore normal levels of these soft tissue nutrients. However, this can take time. Some notice an improvement in joint function within days, but more typically over several weeks. Studies show that these substances help maintain distances between joint structures over many months, a key measure of joint integrity as these structural components may slowly collapse if not nourished.
To improve joint health on a short-term basis, it may be useful to supplement with herbs that inhibit the over-activity of the enzymes typically involved in the inflammatory process. These herbs, some of which are common spices like turmeric and ginger, may mediate COX-2 or 5-LOX enzymes, providing temporary relief. While pharmaceutical drugs may offer faster action, the safety and repair activities associated with nutrients and herbs are dramatically better. The antioxidant components in herbs also improve the body's ability to repair tissues by stimulating collagen formation.
Can Diet Help?
Another factor to review is food. A diet high in animal fat is implicated in inflammatory joint problems. Experts frequently recommend that sufferers reduce their intake of most animal fats and increase their consumption of natural healthy essential fats, especially Omega-3s (cold-water fatty fish, fish oil, flax seeds, flax oil) and Omega-6s, CLA and GLA from vegetable oils. Other foods often implicated in immune reactions are wheat and milk, and it is sometimes best to avoid them while addressing the problems. A low-fat, gluten-free, vegetarian-based diet has been helpful if maintained for several months and works even better when combined with other approaches, such as supplementation.
Joint problems are often linked to leaky gut and poor digestion, leading to an attack of undigested proteins by the body's immune cells. This trains immune cells to recognize food proteins as invasive organisms and respond to them aggressively, leading to food sensitivities that are not classic allergies. Since some undigested or partially digested proteins may be similar to body tissues, mal-digestion could partially explain why the body sometimes attacks its own tissues. If so, then it may be time to consider supplements that support digestion. Proper digestion is imperative to 1) prevent immune reactions to food and 2) act as a barrier to pathogens in food. To improve digestion, take time with your food before you eat. Smelling its aroma and appreciating its color and texture will activate your body's natural digestive process. Avoid stress or distractions during meals. Carefully chew food to a liquid before swallowing, and even chew liquids to enhance contact with digestive enzymes in saliva. Taking a high-quality enzyme with food promotes optimal digestion.
In some cases, additional stomach acid is necessary in order to digest proteins (and minerals). Hydrochloric acid and pepsin supplements provide this. Sometimes, however, much larger amounts (600-2400 mg) of acid are recommended by health professionals. Since there can be associated risks, high doses must be taken under medical supervision. You may perform a traditional home test to determine whether more acid would improve your digestion. Mix one tablespoon of (preferably raw and organic) apple cider vinegar into a glass of (pure) water and drink it with a meal. If it improves your digestion, you may require more acid. Its benefits may not be noticeable, however, if you require large amounts of additional acid. A tablespoon of raw honey may also be added to the apple cider-water beverage to enhance digestion, also making it taste more like apple juice. If it helps, it can be taken daily with meals. Supportive supplements include digestive enzymes like bromelain and protease, which can be taken between meals, and can help control systems associated with temporary joint discomfort.
Fairly high doses of vitamin E have been shown to help joint health, but I recommend taking a full vitamin E complex containing all eight forms of natural vitamin E compounds, not just the alpha tocopherol. Other antioxidants are important to control inflammatory reactions. These include the minerals selenium and zinc, vitamins A, C, E, and many plant compounds.
Celadrin® products, taken orally or applied topically, may reduce temporary pain and contain esterified fatty acids from beef fat. Celadrin products also contain cetylmyristoleate, cetylaurate, and cetyloleate and are clinically proven to promote joint flexibility and mobility.
Time and patience may be required to find a program that works best for your individual needs. Many supplements are most effective over weeks, months, even years. And when used in conjunction with supportive dietary and lifestyle practices, the results tend to be safer with increased incidences of healing and mobility, and the reduction of pain and stiffness.