by Dr. Mercola
Osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis in the United States, impacting 27 million U.S. adults. It’s estimated that one in two Americans will develop some form of osteoarthritis during their lifetime, and, more specifically, one in two people will develop symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics.
The risk increases even more if you’re overweight, and among those who are obese, which represents 25 percent of the U.S. population, two in three are at risk of osteoarthritis. Needless to say, the obesity epidemic coupled with the number of Americans growing older is expected to drive osteoarthritis rates through the roof in coming years.
The good news is that you can take steps to drastically lower your risk of this painful and frequently disabling disease, which I’ll discuss below. But for those of you who are already struggling with osteoarthritis pain, I want to first explain that there are some powerful natural alternatives that may give you relief.
Natural Relief from Osteoarthritis Pain
Normally osteoarthritis is associated with “wear and tear” on your joints, but can also be caused by repetitive stress or acute trauma. This wear and tear leads to deterioration of cartilage that cushions your joints, resulting in pain that can be severe and interfere with your ability to work and perform normal daily activities.
Many people with osteoarthritis depend on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin) to manage this pain, but the regular, chronic use of these types of medications is associated with significant, and very serious, side effects, including:
- Cardiovascular problems
- Gastrointestinal harm
- Kidney and/or liver damage
If you are taking an NSAID and you have a history of heart disease, you are at a 10-fold increase in the risk of congestive heart failure (CHF). And even if you don’t, your risk of CHF will still be increased by 60 percent if you take NSAIDs.
Ulcers are another major risk, and up to 60 percent of regular NSAID users will have gastrointestinal side effects related to these drugs, according to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG). In fact, ACG notes that regular use of NSAIDs is the second major cause for ulcers. Given the risks, having a natural alternative to NSAIDs for pain relief is invaluable, especially for a painful condition like osteoarthritis — and turmeric is emerging as one of the safest and most effective options out there.
Turmeric for Osteoarthritis Pain Relief
As noted above, a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, taking turmeric extracts each day for six weeks was just as effective as ibuprofen for relieving knee osteoarthritis pain.
This is most likely related to the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin — the pigment that gives the turmeric spice its yellow-orange color. Curcumin has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, and it can inhibit both the activity and the synthesis of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX), as well as other enzymes that have been implicated in inflammation.
In a separate study of osteoarthritis patients, those who added 200 mg of curcumin a day to their treatment plan had reduced pain and increased mobility, whereas the control group, which received no curcumin, had no significant improvements. A past study also found that a turmeric extract composed of curcuminoids (plant-based nutrients that contain powerful antioxidant properties) blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the launch of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.
So it’s becoming increasingly clear that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects may help to reduce irritation to tissues characterized by pain, redness, swelling and heat, which is particularly helpful for osteoarthritis patients.
As an aside, curcumin is not only beneficial for osteoarthritis … research is also emerging showing it may play a beneficial role in the following diseases:
|Cancer||Cystic fibrosis||Type 2 diabetes|
|Crohn’s disease||Psoriasis||Rheumatoid arthritis|
|Inflammatory bowel disease|
How to Help Increase Your Absorption of Curcumin
You can use turmeric in your cooking (choose a pure turmeric powder, rather than a curry powder, as at least one study has found that curry powders tend to contain very little curcumin), but you may also want to consider taking it in supplement form when you are using it for therapeutic purposes. For many this is a more convenient method to obtain the potential health benefits, especially if it is from a high-quality organic source, and also if you don’t particularly enjoy the taste of curry.
The only challenge to this is that curcumin can be difficult for your body to absorb. One work around for this is to make a microemulsion out of the curcumin powder by combining a tablespoon of the powder with one or two egg yolks and a teaspoon or two of melted coconut oil. Then use a hand blender on high speed to emulsify the powder.
Another strategy you can use to increase absorption is to put one tablespoon of the curcumin powder into a quart of boiling water. It must be boiling when you add the powder, as it will not work as well if you put it in room temperature water and heat the water and curcumin. After boiling it for ten minutes you will have created a 12% solution and you can drink this once it has cooled down. The curcumin will gradually fall out of solution over time and in about six hours it will be a 6% solution so it is best to drink the water within four hours. It does have a woody taste.
One caution … curcumin is a very potent yellow pigment and can permanently discolor surfaces if you aren’t careful. So use it with care in your kitchen to make sure no powder gets onto your counters and other surfaces.
To get the full benefits curcumin has to offer, look for a turmeric extract that contains 100 percent certified organic ingredients, with at least 95 percent curcuminoids. The formula should be free of fillers, additives and excipients (a substance added to the supplement as a processing or stability aid), and the manufacturer should use safe production practices at all stages: planting, cultivation, selective harvesting, and then producing and packaging the final product.
There are several other natural strategies that can offer pain relief from osteoarthritis as well, including acupuncture, herbs like ginger and boswellia, bromelain and evening primrose oil.
Tips for Preventing and Managing Osteoarthritis Naturally
Remember, osteoarthritis is not a normal part of aging, and it is not inevitable that you will experience aches and pains in your joints as you get older. One of the most important steps you can take to avoid osteoarthritis is actually to keep your weight at a healthy level, as carrying around extra weight puts unnecessary stress on your joints that can speed up deterioration.
So a healthy diet and regular exercise are keys to warding off this disease as you age. I recommend:
- Nutritional Typing: Your unique biochemistry and genetics influence the ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrates your body needs to thrive, so eating for your nutritional type will ensure that you get the optimal macronutrient ratio out of your diet. Making proper dietary choices is actually one of the most profound ways to reduce inflammation.
- Comprehensive Exercise Program: Even light exercise has been shown to help prevent the onset of osteoarthritis, and it is very important to increase muscle tone of your non-weight bearing joints. In time, disuse results in muscle atrophy and weakness, and immobility may result in joint contractures and loss of range of motion (ROM), so it’s important to keep moving. Your program should include a range of activities, just as I recommend for any exerciser. Weight training, cardio, stretching and core work can all be integrated into your routine.
- Optimizing your Vitamin D Levels: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with inflammation, so you will want to be sure your levels are in the healthy range by getting proper sun exposure, using a safe tanning bed or taking a high-quality vitamin D3 supplement. Low vitamin D has also been linked to osteoarthritis directly.
- Omega-3 Fats: Omega-3 fats are excellent for arthritis because omega-3s are well known to help reduce inflammation. Look for a high-quality, animal-based source such as krill oil. In addition, adding glucosamine to your omega-3s appears to be an excellent choice for osteoarthritis sufferers in particular.
If you have osteoarthritis, the cartilage within your joint is progressively being damaged, and the synovial fluid that keeps your joints lubricated and cushioned is typically reduced as well. The pain is a result of your bones starting to come into contact with each other as cartilage and synovial fluid is reduced. Your body is fully capable of rebuilding cartilage and synovial fluid, but in order to effectively do so it needs the proper building blocks. In this case, it needs glucosamine to rebuild both cartilage and synovial fluid, so correcting this deficiency by using a high-quality supplement may be helpful.
In one study, participants with moderate-to-severe hip or knee osteoarthritis who received 1,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate along with 200 mg of omega-3 had greater pain reduction and fewer symptoms (morning stiffness, pain in hips and knees) than those who took glucosamine by itself.