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Arthritis: What You Can Do About It

Arthritis is a painful condition involving degeneration and inflammation of joints - those most often affected being the fingers and hands, parts of the spine, and weight bearing joints such as knees and hips. Arthritis is the single most common cause of joint disease, resulting in swelling, pain, stiffness and discomfort.

Management of the condition largely involves reducing inflammation, pain relief and where possible, reducing the load on compromised joints (through weight loss and exercises). Changing dietary and lifestyle factors can have a significant effect on the course of arthritis, stalling destructive disease processes and improving overall symptoms.

A key aim in the treatment of this condition is to reduce inflammation in the joint, thereby reducing pain and preventing increased degradation. One herb which has proven particularly useful in treatment of osteoarthritis is Boswellia. Boswellia serrata, or Indian frankincense, has a history of traditional use in inflammatory conditions. More recently, a number of studies have demonstrated its potent effect on inhibiting inflammation. Because of this, Boswellia is often useful in significant reduction of pain and other symptoms associated with arthritis. The herb targets specific components of the inflammatory pathway, therefore it does not cause any imbalance in other systems - eg. digestive upset, as can be the case with other anti-inflammatory medications.

A number of foods and nutrients have been shown to modulate inflammatory processes, particularly essential fatty acids (EFAs). These are the 'good fats' necessary for human health, they cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained through the diet. The EFAs most helpful in treatment of arthritis are ALA (found in flaxseed oil) and EPA (found primarily in cold-water fish).

Other nutrients may aid the reduction of pain and inflammation, including Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, B6, Calcium, Vitamins D, C & E - not only do these reduce inflammation, but they are also involved in tissue repair and restoration.

Often, there is also a decrease in the concentration of glucosamine in arthritic joints - resulting, along with other factors, in the inflammation of cartilage and subsequent destruction of the joint over time. As a result, supplementation of glucosamine is often recommended in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is commonly given together with chondroitin, itself a major component of cartilage - as the two are considered more beneficial in combination.

Reducing the body's acidity can also inhibit the progression of inflammatory processes, reducing pain and preventing further damage. In natural medicine, an acidic system is representative of inflammation, on a number of levels. As already discussed, reducing inflammation and preventing further exacerbation are key aspects in the treatment of arthritis. Acidic foods include sugar (in most forms) and refined flour products, tomatoes, coffee, alcohol, most dairy products and red meat. Foods that counteract this, having an alkalising effect, include leafy greens, apple cider vinegar, most fruits, raw nuts and spices. 

In combination with the above measures, acupuncture has a strong record in treating osteoarthritic pain and mobility.  Research, and our own experience, has shown that acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function in osteoarthritic joints.


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