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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

July 1998

Osteoarthritis - Part 2 - Treatment and Prevention

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

Last month we reviewed the causes and progression of osteoarthritis (OA). This month, let's focus on treatment and, better yet, prevention. As a chiropractor, I will take a conservative, natural approach.

Medical Treatment - NSAIDS

Nearly 35 million Americans suffer from OA. The medical treatment is to take an anti-inflammatory drug to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. The most common drug is ibuprofen, which is sold over-the-counter and in stronger prescription strengths. Short-term, it does the job -- it does decrease pain and swelling. But what are the long-term implications of taking ibuprofen and similar non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly abbreviated NSAIDs? We are encouraged by advertising to take Advil after a hard workout, to alleviate the pain with Allieve, or to "nupe" the pain with Nuprin. Why not just take an NSAID whenever your joints ache? Heck, why not take an NSAID before working out and avoid getting sore? Some people do just that. In my book, that's trading a short-term benefit for a long-term disaster.

Dangers of Using NSAIDs

Pain-killing drugs, such as NSAIDs do not cure osteoarthritis. In the long-term they make it worse by blocking repair processes as well as the process of inflammation. They have been found to actually to retard the growth of cartilage. ("NSAID and Osteoarthritis - Help or Hindrance?", P. Brooks, et al, Journal of Rheumatology, 1982; 9:3-5.) Nutritionist Robert Crayhon, M. S. says that NSAIDs are "the number one accelerator of joint destruction in America."

Damaged cartilage that is not being repaired leads to more pain and inflammation. Consequently, you take more NSAIDs, which temporarily help reduce the pain and inflammation, but lead to further disrepair of cartilage. It's a vicious cycle! This explains why many patients with arthritis who take anti-inflammatory drugs have symptomatic relief when they use them, but never seem to get better.

In addition, NSAIDs are very hard on the stomach, intestines, and in some cases, liver and kidneys. They can cause bleeding of the stomach and intestines. In fact, NSAIDs are the number one cause of hospital admissions for bleeding of the gastrointestinal tract.

Arthritis is not a "Normal Part of Aging"

Is osteoarthritis an inevitable result of aging? Crayhon relates the following story in an excellent article on "Maximizing Joint Health" in Total Health: "Ted, a 72-year-old successful businessman, came into my office one day with osteoarthritis in his right elbow. He wanted to see if nutrition could help it. He as disappointed with his doctor who had told him that there was nothing he could do because 'arthritis is a normal part of aging.' He observed that his left elbow was as old as the right one, and it was fine!"

I agree with Crayhon, who continues, "Ted's common sense observation is true: there is nothing inevitable about arthritis. It is not a normal part of aging. Arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, can not only be helped by the right diet, it can also be prevented." Do not rely on medications merely to cover up problems. Get to the root cause or causes of your inflammation and pain. I suggest you look at the natural alternatives for keeping your joints healthy and pain-free from osteoarthritis.

Natural Alternatives First

I suggest you see a chiropractor or osteopath to examine and correct biomechanical problems, such as excessive stress on joints, poor posture, or improper body alignment. Ask them about diet and nutritional supplementation to help give your body the building blocks for repair and maintenance of your joints and overall health. If they are unfamiliar with nutritional treatment and prevention of osteoarthritis, ask if they are open to learning more and then share with them the resources I mention below.

Nutritional Supplementation Can Help

Deprived of the proper nutrients and blocked by the chronic use of NSAIDs, cartilage repair stops. On the other hand, given the proper nutrients, the body will slowly repair cartilage. In particular, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates have been shown to stimulate the healing of joints in two ways. In a nutshell, they provide the building blocks for of long chains of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and stimulate the cells in cartilage, called chondrocytes, to increase their production of GAGs. Therefore, they are called "chondroprotective nutraceuticals."

There is nothing new about glucosamine and chondroitin. They occur naturally, in combination, in the cartilage of healthy people. Veterinarians have used them for years to help with arthritic dogs.

Jason Theodosakis, M.D. wrote his popular book The Arthritis Cure: The Medical Miracle That Can Halt, Reverse, and May Even Cure Osteoarthritis (St. Martin's Press, NY) following his personal recovery from sports-trauma induced osteoarthritis that hurt so much that he sometimes had to use a wheelchair. His nine-step plan includes taking 1,000 to 2,000 mg of glucosamine and 800-1,600 mg chondroitin sulfates, depending on body weight. As with most nutritional supplements, this is best taken in divided doses with meals.

Other natural anti-inflammatory and chondroprotective nutrients round out the protocol recommended by Crayhon. I suggest you consult Crayhon's article in Total Health (volume 19, number 3) or Theodosakis' book for details.

Remember that nutritional therapy of this sort typically takes one to three months to make a change. You may need to make short-term use of medications during the transition. I suggest you work with your health care provider to work out the details of a program that can help you long-term.

As a final note, if your joints are beyond the ability of the body to repair, if you have no cartilage left at all, you may not respond to nutritional therapy. You may need to use medication, but do so as sparingly as is possible. You may even need joint replacement surgery. Hopefully, though, you will follow these suggestions as preventative measures and keep on dancing.

Next article: In our craze to lose weight, we have obsessively embraced "fat free." However, some fats are necessary and beneficial in our diet. Several help lubricate our joints and are natural anti-inflammatory nutrients. Let's examine how they can be incorporated in a program for long-term joint and overall health.

Future article: I've heard from a few more folks with tales of orthotics. Looks like I've got enough to make an interesting article. Nevertheless, if you have had experience with orthotics (good, bad or indifferent), I would still appreciate hearing from you.

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