by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
The month of August seems to be the perfect time to discuss two important (but unrelated) health topics of interest. The first topic is arthritis, of particular interest now both because of a recent national observance of the disease during the month of July and because actions that we can take now in the hot summertime can ease arthritic symptoms for the upcoming cooler fall and winter months when arthritis symptoms can have heightened flares.
The second health topic of interest at this time of year is vaccinations. Of course, back-to-school vaccines are at the forefront of everyone’s minds for youngsters, but we often don’t stop to think about which vaccines are most important for adults to receive.
In this two-subject article series, we’ll begin with nutritional information to ease arthritis symptoms, and then in a separate article available later in August, we’ll take a peek at five vaccines adults should consider getting.
To begin with the first topic, let’s take a look at a condition adversely affecting millions of Americans that is also one of the leading causes of disability here and in other countries around the world – arthritis. There are many forms of arthritis, and the collection of related ailments is no respecter of age or gender. Literally everyone is at some degree of risk of developing a form of arthritis at some point during life. Although the aforementioned statement is a scary one, there is good news.
One thing that all the forms of arthritis are susceptible to is improved nutrition. Improvements in diet and/or supplementation can make arthritic symptoms recede and sometimes nearly disappear.
In the book, Pain-Free Arthritis, author Dr. Harris H. McIlwain explains that eating a well-balanced diet of natural, whole foods is the first step to successfully treating arthritic conditions. Dr. Harris explains that there are, as yet, unstudied nutrients in foods that provide us with benefits not available in dietary supplements. Although Dr. Harris recommends various supplements to help with arthritis treatment, he likes to begin with a balanced, healthy diet focused on unprocessed foods. Dr. Harris then advises adding supplements to aid specific aspects of arthritis treatment.
For example, rheumatoid arthritis patients may often exhibit deficiencies in vitamins C, D, and E, as well as calcium and folic acid, while osteoporosis patients may be deficient in vitamin D and calcium. Both groups of patients would need to supplement their respective diets accordingly with appropriate vitamins and minerals.
Dr. Harris urges any type of arthritis sufferer to include a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement that meets the daily RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance (as suggested by the American Dietetics Association) into the daily healthy diet regimen.
Dr. Harris goes on to say, “A host of studies reveal the benefits of certain foods and nutrients in reducing symptoms of arthritis and related diseases.”
Some of the nutrients and foods Dr. Harris recommends include the following listed items.
- Vitamin C is known to play a key role in building and protecting collagen, which is a crucial ingredient in the cartilage that cushions the joints. Some research suggests that arthritis sufferers with higher intakes of vitamin C have a lower risk of cartilage loss and disease progression. Research participants also generally report improvements in pain levels and other symptoms. Researchers note that study subjects were found to have improvements in capillary fragility as well.
The studied effective dose of daily vitamin C intake is 500 to 1,000 mg. Supplements are the surest means of attaining these dosing levels; however, it is best to include a number of natural sources of the nutrient in the diet. Good sources include: broccoli, cauliflower, citrus fruits, peppers, kale, avocado, melons, and tomatoes, among other fruit and vegetable choices.
- Another important nutrient to use in the fight against arthritis is vitamin B3 or niacin or niacinamide. National Institutes of Health research dating back as far as July of 1996 shows that improved joint range of motion and reduced pain and swelling occurred in patients who improved their niacinamide intake. The effective dose seems to be around 15 to 20 milligrams and can be obtained by both supplementing and by eating plenty of peanut butter, enriched breads, Brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, mushrooms, green vegetables, potatoes, and rice.
- Other helpful B vitamins in the fight against arthritis are B6, folic acid, and pantothenic acid. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome pain seems to be especially aided by the intake of B6. Approximately 50mg. of the vitamin seems to be the effective dose. Be careful not to exceed 100mg. of B6, as levels over that amount can lead to toxicity. Natural sources of B6 include chicken, fish, pork, bananas, sweet potatoes, soybeans, peanuts, avocado, and whole-wheat products.
Pantothenic acid is especially important for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers, who seem to be partially deficient in the nutrient. RA patients who supplemented with 500 to 2,000 mg. of the vitamin experienced less morning stiffness, disability, and pain. That’s not to say that osteoarthritis patients don’t benefit from increased intake of B6, and pantothenic acid; they do, definitely; it is just more pronounced help to carpal tunnel or RA patients.
Folic acid appears to do very well at combating the drug-related liver damage that can occur in RA patients who take methotrexate to quell their arthritis symptoms. Folic acid or folate is also particularly effective in lifting depression in any type of arthritis patient. Look to obtain 400mcg. of folic acid daily. Fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, spinach, chickpeas, egg yolks, turkey, broccoli, and lentils are all good sources of the vitamin, as are vitamin supplements containing folic acid.
- The nutrients vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin K are all crucial to building bone, preventing osteoarthritis, and promoting proper muscle function. All of these nutrients should be taken daily to assure proper bone density and muscle function. A brief listing of each nutrient and the foods from which it can be obtained will follow.
Let’s start with vitamin D, which should be taken in about 400 I.U. – 2,000 I.U. daily amounts. The sun, in about 15 – 20 minute, sunscreen-free doses, is your most dependable means of getting vitamin D. Food sources include: fortified milk, fortified cereal, salmon, tuna, herring, and cod-liver oil. Most multi-vitamin supplements contain 400 I.U. (or more) of vitamin D. The nutrient can also be purchased and taken separately from a “combo” pill.
Next up is calcium, which should run in about 1,000 – 1,500 mg. of total daily intake, but should be consumed by taking divided doses of no more than 500 mg. per dose. Take calcium with food and not with foods high in iron or with iron containing supplements. High calcium foods include dairy products, soy products, calcium-fortified foods, beans, sardines (with bones), salmon, and broccoli.
Phosphorus, crucial for the formation of bone, needs to have a daily intake of about 1,200 mg. Food sources include: lean meats, fish, nuts, beans, dairy products, breads, cereals, and other grain based items.
Magnesium is very important to good muscle function (including the heart) and needs to be in proper balance with calcium. Magnesium is also important to nerve health and pain regulation. (The mineral seems to be especially important to people with fibromyalgia pain.) Supplementation should be in the 500mg. range to avoid gastrointestinal symptoms and diarrhea. Food sources include cereal, nuts, raisins, bananas, spinach, dairy products, cod, sole, avocados, and pineapple.
Finally, vitamin K is an essential nutrient involved in bone mineralization. The suggested daily dose is 65 to 85 mcg., preferably from natural sources like broccoli, beef liver, olive oil, canola oil, and any cruciferous vegetable.
Other arthritis combatants:
There are several other nutritional supplements that prove useful in the fight against arthritis. Some of those substances are: turmeric, glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, fish oil, bromelain, and collagen. Most of these substances are readily available in stores and on-line, and these substances have a proven track record of success in assisting with arthritis symptoms. Below is a short list of the supplements’ dosing instructions:
- Turmeric – 500mg., 1 – 3 times daily
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate: glucosamine (1,500mg.) and chondroitin (600 to 1,200mg.) daily
- Fish oil – 1.8mg. DHA and 1.2 mg. of EPA daily
- Bromelain – 500mg. three times daily between meals
- Collagen – 40 mg. of undenatured collagen daily
Also remember that exercise, from simple walking to tai chi to strength training to household chores, can be very helpful in alleviating arthritis pain and stiffness.
Keeping a positive outlook, even under challenging circumstances, can help deal with the myriad complications of arthritis and help the sufferer find effective answers for his/her particular situation.
There is much we can do to prevent and treat the crippling diseases that fall under the umbrella of arthritis, but we must be determined and proactive.
Author’s note: Check back in this space later in August, around late third week or early fourth week, for information on needed vaccines for adults. Happy end of summer!