Let's Make a Joint Effort!

A lot of patients come to me and say, “Oh, Dr. Selassie my bones are aching!  My bones feel horrible. What can I do for my bones?” But after a few investigative questions, I realize what they're actually talking about is the space in between their bones.  Anywhere along the skeleton that bends -- elbows, wrists, knees, hips, shoulders -- are the joints.  You have two main types of joints: one type is the ball-and-socket joint, like the joints of your hips and shoulders that makes it so you can rotate your arms and legs in all directions; the other type is the hinge joint, like your elbows and knees that bend back and forth like hinges on a door.  Your spine is made up of a stack of small bones called vertebrae which allow you to bend back and forth, and side to side.


Let’s take a closer look at the knee joint, for example.  There are rubbery end caps, called cartilage, that sit on the bottom of the thigh bone and the top of the lower leg bone.  In between the cartilage is a thin layer of liquid called synovial fluid that has the consistency of raw egg whites. This synovial fluid provides lubrication and shock absorbency.  Wrapped around the joint is a bunch of ligaments attaching bone to bone, and tendons attaching muscle to bone; these encapsulate and stabilize the knee joint.


After years and years of  using our joints, the cartilage gets naturally worn down.  It begins to lose its integrity, developing splits and micro-tears.  The synovial fluid leaks into the tears and the joint space gets narrower.  Little by little, the cartilage wears down until eventually, the joint space disappears, and you have bone rubbing on bone.  This bone rubbing, as you might imagine, can be very painful.


So what we want to do is actually heal and rebuild that joint space.  You see, most over-the-counter drugs will take away the pain, but they won’t actually heal the joint.  In fact, long term use of the these over-the-counter drugs for joint pain can cause bleeding ulcers and even kidney damage.  


There are many beneficial lifestyle changes that you can incorporate into your daily life in order to help you heal.  Naturopathic doctors like me will encourage you to concentrate on your food.


Food can often make a profound difference in your health.   If you eat anti-inflammatory foods, you give your body room to heal.  Some really wonderful anti-inflammatory foods are mustard greens, collard greens, mushrooms, beets, and root vegetables like carrots and turnips.  On the other hand, you want to to avoid foods like sugar and refined carbohydrates that cause inflammation.  When you have too much inflammation, it’s going to create more pain between the joints.


Another important lifestyle choice to incorporate into your life is movement.  There are a lot of joint sufferers who guard their joints by keeping them still.  However, this is the wrong way to approach joint healing, since it allows for little blood supply into the joint.  If we keep our joints still, the synovial fluid gets stiff and circulation becomes stagnant. It is important to pump nutrition into the joint through movement.  A lot of people find it really difficult to exercise, especially with aging. Of course, if you can lift weights, run on the treadmill, or cross train, then do that.  However, simple movement is the key. If you just hold your hands up and shake them at your wrists for a minute and then stop, you can actually feel the blood rushing into your fingertips.  Picture nutrients flowing into into all of the joints of the hands. Be encouraged and never underestimate the power of simple movement. Remember, movement is a powerful way to keep your joints healthy.


A third lifestyle step is incorporating supplements into your daily life.  With supplements for joint health, you want to take two avenues of approach.  One approach is reducing inflammation; the other is helping your body preserve and actually rebuild cartilage.  


One of the best anti-inflammatory supplements is turmeric.  Its active constituent is called curcumin.   Turmeric is a root that looks like yellow ginger.  It is the part of curry that makes the spice blend yellow.   It is really easy to cook with powdered turmeric; just put a tablespoon into your vegetable stir fry or into your pot of rice, ideally with black pepper, which helps with absorption.  Turmeric is actually hard to absorb into your body and it can be difficult for the healing constituent of turmeric to reach your joints, so it is good to take it as a supplement. I recommend Curcumin Extreme by nutraMetrix, which contains a patented form of curcumin called BCM95; this supplement is super-bioavailable and it lasts for longer in the body than most other curcumin supplements.  Soothing joint inflammation really helps us get out of pain.


Getting out of pain is a huge relief, but we also have to supply nutrients that rebuild or reconstruct the joint.  My favorite supplement to rebuild the joint is called Joint Support Formula by nutraMetrix.  Joint Support Formula contains glucosamine and hyaluronic acid.   A vegetarian mineral-based supplement that can help with rebuilding the joint is Hyaluronic Acid.  Hyaluronic Acid nourishes the synovial fluid between the cartilage. In that fluid are chondrocytes. Chondrocytes actually mature into adult cartilage cells, with the potential to repair your knee.  Glucosamine has been consistently demonstrated in the research to regenerate cartilage.


There are many combination joint formulas out there, so I would like to make two important points.  One is that some joint formulas are good quality, containing all the right levels of clean nutrients, and some are poor quality.   In the poor quality supplements, not all ingredients are clean or pure, and the levels of nutrients may not even carry the therapeutic amounts necessary to regenerate joint tissue.  Some of the best quality formulas are the two I mentioned, Curcumin Extreme and Joint Support Formula. The second point to note is very important if you have an autoimmune type of arthritis.  If you have the autoimmune type arthritis, it’s important for you to use only anti-inflammatory supplements such as the Curcumin Extreme, but not joint builders like Hyaluronic Acid or Glucosamine.  Naturopathic doctors are trained to know which supplements are best for you.  


So, for healthy joints, eat colorful, anti-inflammatory vegetables, move your joints to pump in nutrition and keep your synovial fluid acting like the lubricant and shock absorber it is meant to be, and take supplements that both remove inflammation and help you rebuild your joints.