Why are we focusing on joints this week?? Because we have over 200 of them in our incredible bodies! Because along with our skeleton, connective tissue and muscles, our joints give us form, hold us together and allow us to move….and our body was designed to move! Also, because we all have them, we all use them and we all torment them in one way or another throughout our lives. Since I am a big advocate of movement for life, how can we not discuss what allows our bodies to move?!
So, whether or not you have “joint issues” now or not, read through because with age, comes many changes and what you do now greatly effects what happens later and there is sooo much to be said for nourishing and protecting our joints now! There is so much to be said and I only touched upon a small portion to get us thinking about our joints more.
I love doing classes on joint health because I feel we are never too young to regain some of that strength, reduce some of that inflammation, and allow our bodies to move more freely and easily. As a health care practitioner, I see too many people stopping doing what they love in life because of joint issues, whether it is pain, swelling or stiffness. As a nurse, I see so many needless surgeries being performed for a quick fix and I hear doctors acknowledging that they are often performing needless joint surgeries, but do so because they do not believe that their patient will change their movement and dietary lifestyle to help themselves. I would love to see this post help at least one person become pain free, avoid an injury or be more able to move freely by making the right chooses.
Throughout life we use and often abuse our joints; we bend, pull, twist, push, jump, run, and swim with our joints. There is a great tendency for us to break them down, often unnecessarily, too early in life, be it through wear and tear, lack of wear and tear, the way we move, the foods we choose or don’t choose, poor posture, injury or trauma, or by allowing too much weight to settle onto them.
The health of our joints is not just determined by the way we use them. Joint health is also determined by what is going on in the internal environment that surrounds them. This internal environment is affected very much so by our diet, lifestyle, and immune system, amongst other things….and these are areas that we have choices in making the right decisions to support them as much as possible.
So this post will address what foods, herbs, supplements, home remedies and moves positively affect our joints. The mission here is to help give you the tools and a bit of knowledge so that you can get back to or continue to do the things you love in life, so much of which revolves around how our bodies move. I am a huge advocate in this mission because I feel it makes for a better society as a whole when people are ABLE BODIED!
Normal joint health begins with a healthy inflammatory response. Joint Health is a complex issue but we all recognize one simple truth and that is …..It is indisputable that a healthy inflammation response is required to maintain normal joint health. The body’s natural inflammatory response affects every major organ system. Suddenly, supporting a healthy inflammatory response takes on whole new meaning.
Prolonged inflammation, caused by a self-destructive lifestyle, is a harmful response that affects your musculoskeletal system, gastrointestinal function, cardiovascular system, vision, and hormone balance. It’s crucial to control inflammation but it’s even smarter to prevent inflammation (In fact, I am a firm believer that inflammation is at the root of essentially all chronic issues/diseases). You can do this through daily movement, stress management, avoidance of certain foods and addition of certain other foods. As we age, cartilage is lost, and this process predisposes the bones that make up the joints to change. In an attempt to address the change, immune cells mount a cellular response that involves inflammation. The inflammation response function in the joints results from the activation of inflammatory enzymes. Numerous other factors can trigger these enzymes, including normal aging, oxidative free radicals, poor movements over and over again and being overweight.
Arthritis literally means: inflammation of the joint. ‘Arthos’ in greek = joint and ‘itis’ = inflammation. We can picture arthritis as swelling, redness, heat and pain caused by tissue injury or joint dis-ease. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis and is also know as degenerative joint disease…..it mainly effects the cartilage of the joint, which is the tissue that cushions the end of the bones in the joint area and acts as a shock absorber. OA occurs when this cartilage in inflamed and begins to fray, wear away and decay…sometimes completely…from a variety of reasons…nutrition and how we move are the two main factors in joint health. Contrary to popular belief, we are now seeing the research and results that show that cartilage (like bone) can actually repair itself (it has been believed for years that it could not)..but repair itself only to a point. It is far more important to prevent this breakdown than try to rebuild after the breakdown.
Reduce overall stress in your life….It’s pretty clear that the body deals with stressors rather indiscriminately, and a high stress lifestyle (no matter the source) is also an inflammatory one.
So another important aspect of nourishing, protecting and/or repairing our joints, and alleviating discomfort is what we feed ourselves and thus our joints. We need to build or rebuild a solid foundation from which the surrounding tissues and blood vessels can rely on. This includes strengthening our connective tissue which supports the joint, strengthening the existing cartilage, reducing inflammation in our bodies and providing the joint with a “clean” work environment to do this…free of waste accumulation…when a joint is stagnant waste loves to settle there causing even more degradation of the good stuff.
An extremely important part of life let alone any treatment program is a well balanced diet. A well balanced diet combined with proper movement and weight control is crucial to maintain the health of our joints. Our joints like the rest of our bodies require proper nutrition to function well. Excess waste accumulation in the synovial fluid of our joints is believed to be a main contributor to joint dis-ease and arthritis. Excess waste can come from fried foods, excess caffeine, alcohol, smoking, processed foods, preservatives etc…we all know the culprits. Certain foods, like excess wheat and soy, can lead to inflammation in the body which will also directly effect the joints. Also, food allergies and sensitivities can be a major contributor…do you have joint pain that may not be associated with any structural breakdown (yet)? Do you eat alot of wheat, dairy, corn or soy for example and have digestive issues as well as joint issues? This may be an allergy or sensitivity to one of these foods, but yet you continue to eat them without realizing it and these “foreign” molecules put our immune system on attack mode and create an inflammatory repsonse. Don’t ignore your body.
Foods to Avoid for Overall Joint Health (and health in general!):
- Processed Junk
- Artificial this and that
- Wheat (gluten intolerance is often connected to arthritis and since it is in almost everything, more of us may be a touch intolerant thatn we think)
- Excess grains…stick to quinoa, millet, and barley
- Excess Omega 6 Oils…so skip the corn, vegetable, soy, and canola oils…use butter, olive oil and coconut oil instead
- Excess caffeine
- Excess alcohol
Foods to Eat In Abundance: Food rich in anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants, vitamin c, vitamin E, and Omega 3:
- Berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, citrus fruits, black currants, guava, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple
- Allium Family: garlic, onions, leeks
- Cruciferous Family: broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, brussel sprouts
- Leafy Greens: kale, spinach, swiss chard
- Sweet red peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes
- Wild Fish: rich in omega 3 fatty acids for inflammation: salmon, sardines, raw oysters, trout, herring, mackerel….
- Cold pressed oils esp olive oil, flaxseed oil, fish oil, eggs, sunflower seeds, walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and hazelnuts
- Turmeric: we will discuss more under the herb section, but start sprinkling it on your foods
- Green Tea (over other caffeine sources)
A word on the Nightshade Family: this family includes some great veggies and spices that many of us love but also ones that some of us are sensitive to. These inlcude: eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, paprika, cayenne pepper, etc. They have been associated with inflammation, esp in the joints. Nightshades,, in those with sensitivities to them have been associated with symptoms like stomach discomfort, digestive problems, joint pain and muscle tremors. Given the evidence, it is wise for those with arthritis or gout to avoid these foods.
There are many incredible herbs that could be discussed here but I will just focus on a few and the ones I see the most benefit from…hit me up with any questions regarding others and specifics about these herbs, the best form and their dosing.
The main properties of herbs we are looking for include:
- Anti-inflammatory: to calm overall systemic inflammation for reasons mentioned above, to provide symptom relief and decrease swelling for healing to begin
- Alterative: Improves overall health by helping to support natural waste elimination… one of it’s many tricks esp useful for this purpose
- Circulatory stimulants: stimulates blood circulation, increasing blood flow to muscles and joints, bringing nutrients in and taking away waste…best to use peripheral stimulants here.
- Mild diuretics: to eliminate the wastes out of the body that the blood has picked up
Some of the beneficial ‘joint health’ herbs I use:
- Aloe: anti-inflammatory in nature and also contains vit E, C and some important B’s; helps to restore connective tissue and thus improve joint function. Internally and topically.
- Alfalfa: improves digestion for proper nutrient absorption and also contains about 8 active enzymes as well as calcium, vitamin K, magnesium and phosphorus.
- Cat’s claw (Una de Gato): a historic specific for all issues related to joints, arthritis and overall rheumatism. Anti-inflammatory and a digestive aid to increase the absorption of important nutrients so they can get to the joints.
- Horsetail and Oatstraw: nutrient rich herbs in particular in silica which is an important mineral for regenerating connective tissue and will enhance collagen and elastin growth…which leads to stronger supports structures. These minerals are important foundation materials for bone growth as well.
- Ginger, Prickly Ash & Rosemary: peripheral circulatory stimulants…to move the junk out and bring the goods in!
- Meadowsweet and White Willow: pain relief and anti-inflammatory
- Turmeric: vital herb for it’s anti-inflammatory properties. Also antioxidant rich and with mild circulatory stimulating properties
- Yucca: has been shown to help with joint dis-ease through the digestive system…shown to decrease bacterial endotoxin absorption and thus reduce the inhibition of cartilage synthesis by these endotoxins.
- Cayenne: topically: (as capsicum or capsaicin): when applied to the skin it stimulates blood flow to that area and blocks certain nerve fibers that transmit a message of pain.
- Nettles: internally for it’s nutrient rich properties and also externally: the infamous nettle swat: take fresh nettles and ‘swat’ on your joints and let the sting do it’s magic!
New Chapter Vitamin company makes an excellent anti-inflammatory blend that works great with joint issues….called Zyflamend. Check it out here: Zyflamend
- Glucosamine: a nutrient found and made naturally in the body that is used in the formation and ‘repair’ of cartilage. During normal use, connective tissue goes through a cycle of constant breakdown and repair creating a continuous demand for glucosamine. As we age, or beat up our joints, our cartilage loses this nutrient at an increased rate as it is trying to constantly repair…which leads to thinning of the cartialge and thus pain/stiffness/swelling. Supplementation with Glucosamine is based on the theory you are providing more of the building blocks for growth and repair.
- Chondroitin: many questions surround the efficacy of chondroitin yet many people who take chondroitin report a difference though that is when it is taken along with glucosamine. It is beleived to work by inhibiting certain ‘cartilage chewing’ enzymes, interfering with the metabolism of other enzymes that will starve the cartilage of vital fluid and stimulates production of variuous nutrients for the joint.
- MSM: works in rebuilding connective tissue with ‘elastic’ sulfur bonds to inrease flexibility. sulfur is thought to be a vital building block of joints and cartilage and is used in the inhibition of pain impulses along nerve fibers. I have seen it help when just glucosamine isn’t quite cutting it.
- Bromelain: a protein digestive enzyme used to help reduce inflammation in the body and treat pain and swelling….found in pineapples!
- New Chapter’s Zyflamend Supplement (see above)
Make your own Glucosamine!! Check out this video and learn how:
MOVEMENT: Soooo important!!!
Can’t even begin to say enough here!
It is so vital to properly warm up, dynamically, before any movement session to start the lubrication process of our joints. Synovial fluid feeds and bathes our joints in nutrients. Often our joints are starved of vital fluid and thus nutrients from inactivity (ya know that feeling when you’ve been sitting awhile and you hurt when you get up…your joints are dry).
Movement increases flexibility, provides muscle strength and endurance so you can do more of the things you love to do…not to mention in helps with weight reduction which will help take excess pressure off of your joints. Mix up your movement sessions though…chronic cardio, chronic weight bearing moves, chronic anything can increase systemic inflammation….so mix it up!
Go barefoot:. Wearing padded shoes disrupts your natural stride, and going barefoot allows valuable proprioreceptive input so you can intuitively adjust your landing to reduce stress on joints.
Move Dynamically: Check out this video Skye put together awhile back for a some dynamic warm up moves and a joint specific session to get you lubricated and to get that nutrient rich synovial fluid pumping to bathe your joints in goodness!
Bottom line…be kind to your joints so you can keep moving and doing the things you love in life!!