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Ask JJ: Osteoarthritis

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Dear JJ: I'm a 67-year-old woman who recently got diagnosed with osteoarthritis. My doctor warned me as an older woman, I'm more susceptible to this problem along with fractures and other problems it presents. I don't want to go on prescription drugs, and I know you're big on natural remedies. Can you help me out here?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease, the most common form of arthritis, and sometimes called the "wear and tear" arthritis.

A little background: Bones intersect to form a joint. Those bones need a buffer to prevent painful friction. Cartilage--a tough, flexible connective tissue that protects your bones from rubbing together--becomes that buffer.

OA occurs when cartilage wears down, exposing bone to bone and resulting in joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, inflammation, and other issues that range from mild discomfort to debilitating suffering.

Your body has an amazing ability to repair and recover. If you've ever pulled a muscle or broken a bone, you know the process your body goes through to heal.

Unfortunately, unlike other tissue, cartilage doesn't get a steady supply of blood vessel. That's one reason it diminishes with age and doesn't regenerate as quickly.

As you've learned, women, particularly postmenopausal women, become more vulnerable to OA than men. In fact, studies show OA (along with osteoporosis) affects about 60 percent of postmenopausal women.

You can't change your gender, genes, or age, but building healthy cartilage and preventing joint deterioration are within your control with these nine strategies.

1. Go low-sugar impact. Sugar becomes a primary culprit for fat gain and food intolerances, burdening your joints and weakening your immune system. Sugar also "gums up" your proteins, making them sticky and ineffective in a nasty process called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). One study found AGEs could contribute to OA pathology. My Sugar Impact Diet helps you gradually taper off sugar without withdrawal and other miseries going cold turkey can create.
2. Reach your ideal weight. Fat loss might be the most important thing you can do to reduce OA, since your joints (especially lower-body joints) bear the brunt of supporting extra weight. One study found each pound of fat loss creates a four-fold reduction in the amount of pressure on your knees during every step. The famous Framingham Study also showed fat loss reduces symptomatic knee OA in women.
3. Pull the nightshades. I'm normally a fan of tomatoes, eggplant, and cayenne peppers, but if you suffer OA think twice about nightshade vegetables. Experts think substances called alkaloids in nightshade vegetables draw calcium from your bones and deposit that calcium in soft tissue--in this case, your joints--creating and exacerbating pain and other OA symptoms. Controversy exists about how much nightshades contribute to OA, but try completely eliminating all nightshade vegetables for at least three weeks and see if your symptoms improve.
4. Address food intolerances. Gluten, dairy, and other food intolerances exacerbate inflammation, stall fat loss, and create other problems that worsen OA. One study described a 63-year-old female who struggled with OA and other health issues. After six months on a gluten-free diet, her symptoms remitted. It's worth a shot. Ditch gluten, dairy, and other food intolerances for three weeks and see if your symptoms don't subside. (You'll also get the nice "bonus" of fat loss.)
5. Supplement smartly. Studies show glucosamine and chondroitin can slow or reverse OA progression. Ditto for methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which one study found improved pain and physical function for folks struggling with OA. Curcumin becomes another OA-fighting supplement. Studies show this active ingredient in turmeric could provide potentially better and safer benefits than many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and works equally well as the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone.
6. Dial up anti-inflammatory foods. The word osteoarthritis comes from the Greek athro ("joint") and itis ("inflammation"). Whether you want to maintain healthy joints or decrease cartilage breakdown, anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients are an essential part of preventing and soothing OA. (Interestingly, most drugs prescribed for OA focus on reducing inflammation.) Eat wild-caught salmon and other fish three or four times a week. Add freshly ground flaxseeds to your shakes. And supplement with professional-quality essential fish oil, which studies show help reduce OA pathogenesis and improve symptoms.
7. Get your D. One study found along with other nutrients, vitamin D levels were below 80 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDAs) for overweight people with OA. That famous Framingham Study I mentioned earlier also found people deficient in D increased their OA risk three-fold. Because vitamin D plays a part in bone and cartilage metabolism, deficiencies can exacerbate OA and its symptoms. While you want to get some sun and eat vitamin D-rich foods like wild salmon, you'll probably need to supplement to get therapeutic amounts. Ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy test. "Attaining optimal blood levels level of 45 ng/dl typically requires about 3,000-4,000 IU a day of vitamin D3 (6 times current recommendations)," writes Dr. Mark Hyman.
8. Get sufficient sleep. Many people with OA complain pain interrupts their sleep, and one study showed sleep disturbances are common for people with OA. Studies show gentle evening yoga and acupuncture could alleviate OA pain and improve sleep levels.
9. Lift heavy. A 16-week program at Tufts University with older men and women with moderate to severe knee OA found strength training decreased pain by 43 percent, increased muscle strength and general physical performance, improved arthritis symptoms, and decreased disability. "The effectiveness of strength training to ease the pain of osteoarthritis was just as potent, if not more potent, as medications," researchers reported. Combine weight resistance and low-impact burst training with my Fast Blast workouts in just eight - yes, eight - minutes. Grab a FREE one here.

If you've struggled with OA, what strategy would you add to this list? Share yours below, and keep those great questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.