Like it or not, none of us is getting any younger. While the passage of time may bring with it desirable qualities such as wisdom and maturity, it’s effects on our physical health are generally less desirable. The ageing process can ultimately take its toll on the body, upping our chance of succumbing to all manner of undesirable symptoms and ailments. One condition to which we can be especially prone as we age is arthritis. Wear and tear of cartilage tissue in the joints can eventually give rise to a condition called osteoarthritis, which usually manifests as pain and stiffness in major weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees and spine. Compared to heavyweight conditions like heart disease and cancer, osteoarthritis gets scant attention. Yet, while osteoarthritis may not kill anyone, even a relatively minor problem with it can bring major problems: a painful hip or dodgy knee may cause considerable discomfort, and can quite easily put the mockers on our ability to enjoy full and active lives.
Conventional medical treatment for osteoarthritis centres around the use of what are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. While NSAIDs can often quell the pain that is typical of osteoarthritis, they are not without risk. NSAIDs are caustic to the lining of the gut, and can sometimes induce potentially life-threatening bleeding there. Plus, there is also good evidence to suggest that taking NSAIDs hastens the rate of joint degeneration in osteoarthritis, thereby worsening prognosis in the long term. Fortunately, viable alternatives do exist.
The pain and stiffness characteristic of arthritis is essentially the result of a process known as inflammation. Certain foods, namely red meat, dairy products, and processed and fried foods tend to encourage inflammation in the body, and sufferers of osteoarthritis would generally do well to give such foods a wide berth. At the same time, it may help to increase consumption of foods known to have natural anti-inflammatory action in the body. The omega-3 fats found in oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines) and walnuts seem to be especially important in this respect. Another useful natural agent for osteoarthritis is ginger, which has been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory substances in the body. Ginger tea, made by steeping some freshly grated, chopped or sliced root ginger in hot water for five or 10 minutes, makes an ideal brew for sufferers of osteoarthritis.
In recent years, several studies have looked at the effect of the nutritional agent glucosamine sulphate in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is an essential building block in the manufacture of cartilage tissue, and is believed to help regenerate damaged joint tissue. Several well conducted studies show that glucosamine sulphate can be very effective in combating osteoarthritis, and is as generally as good as commonly used NSAIDs at relieving symptoms such as pain and stiffness. Unlike NSAIDs, glucosamine almost certainly helps to preserve joint health, and its use is not associated with problems such as bleeding in the gut. Glucosamine sulphate can be found in health food stores. The normal recommended dose is 500 mg, three times a day, though lower doses may be effective for mild cases. Good results can normally be expected within three months or so.