It's important for me to age well. When I'm older, I plan to be able to enjoy even more of the things that I enjoy now.
I plan to be able to walk the Great Wall of China, climb endless stairs to Machu Picchu, enjoy salsa dance classes, play my guitar, knit quirky tea cosies and of course, dig, weed and plant in my garden.
Both my parents have osteoarthritis to some extent and I have seen the way it has limited their choice of activities as they age. 9% of the Australian population has some osteoarthritis and it is more common in the over 50's, with ageing being the greatest risk factor.
Osteoarthritis is a common and chronic inflammatory disease causing pain and inflammation in joints. The hands, spine, hips, knees and ankles are the joints most often affected. A doctor can diagnose osteoarthritis and rule out other causes of pain and swelling.
Management and prevention of osteoarthritis is possible with a combination of diet, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. The sooner you can adopt diet and lifestyle changes, the better the results of treatment will be. The following is a guide to the way a naturopath can help you to treat this condition:
1. Diet advice for reducing inflammation
Inflammation in joints can be worsened by a lifetime of inappropriate food choices. Many people will find that their symptoms improve by limiting sugar, alcohol and gluten. However, it can also be very beneficial to know which foods trigger inflammation in your body, as these foods may differ to the foods that affect others.
Any food intolerance can trigger an immune system response and cause inflammation, affecting many systems and organs of the body, including joints. A naturopath can help you to find the best diet for you to support joint function.
In addition to being advised to remove or reduce some foods in your diet, a naturopath will recommend foods that are anti-inflammatory, such as oily fish and other healthy fats.
2. Weight loss
Knee and ankle osteoarthritis can be exacerbated by the load taken by those joints when we are overweight. Surprisingly, overweight people even suffer from more hand osteoarthritis than healthy weight people. This is probably due to the role that inflammation plays in both weight gain and osteoarthritis.
A naturopath will prescribe individualised diet advice to help you find a healthy weight for you and support any other issues that are holding you back from losing weight. Any weight loss will benefit the health of your joints.
3. Nutritional supplements for joint repair
To repair joints that are affected by osteoarthritis, diet changes are often not enough and is it usually necessary to take additional nutritional supplementation.
Glucosamine is one of the recommended supplements and naturopaths can often prescribe this in the most appropriate dose, along with other nutrients that support joint health.
4. Herbal medicine for pain management and joint repair
Once regarded as on the fringe, herbal medicine is now coming into it's own in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Herbs such as boswelia and celery seed are being used to reduce inflammation in joints to great effect.Herbs can also increase the circulation of nutrients into the small capillaries that take nutrient rich blood to the joints.
Every patient is individual, so the formula and dosages prescribed will vary from person to person.
Pain management is an important part of osteoarthritis treatment. Many people try to avoid pharmaceutical painkillers whenever possible because of the side effects to the digestive system. This is where herbal medicine can be of great benefit.
Naturopaths are able to prescribe herbs that treat pain. In the case of osteoarthritis, some herbal formulas may be beneficial to take during the day, and other herbals at night because they are beneficial for improving sleep quality.
Other recommendations for joint health
Movement is always recommended for improving joint health. A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to reduced circulation and weight gain, both of which exacerbate osteoarthritis.
Supporting the joints with strong surrounding muscles is recommended for osteoarthritis. You may be referred to a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist to get the best advice about how to support your joints with exercise.
Please contact me if you would like to know more about the treatment, management and prevention of osteoarthritis.
I am a qualified naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist, practicing in Sydney with a special interest in ageing well.