Arthritis: The No. 1 Cause of Disability

Did you ever look at your grandmother’s hands and think, “Wow, that’s gotta’ hurt.”

And then you wake up one day, and your hands look exactly like grandma’s and, yep, darned if it doesn’t hurt. And a cold, rainy day makes it worse.

You are not alone. More than 50 million Americans have some form of arthritis, making it the number one cause of disability in the country. And, according to the Arthritis Foundation, 25.9 percent of women have arthritis as opposed to 18.3 percent of men.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition of the joints, affecting approximately 27 million Americans. While OA can affect any joint, it occurs most often in knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers and the bases of the thumb and big toe.

Biomechanics and hormones play a significant role in women’s susceptibility for osteoarthritis. Wider hips mean our knees take a beating; female estrogen is thought to prevent joint inflammation so we’re all good until menopause sets in. And then there’s the issue of obesity, a risk factor we can control… but apparently, don’t. More than one-third of American adults are considered obese.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system tries to destroy healthy tissue in the body for unknown reasons. With RA the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, which causes the joints to become inflamed, swollen, and painful. However, RA— often associated with Lupus—is systemic, meaning it can affect other areas of the body in addition to joints. Three times as many women than men (1.5 Americans) are affected by RA.

For both OA and RA, physicians most often recommend simple activities like walking or an easy (low-impact!) exercise class that can reduce pain and help maintain (or even attain) a healthy weight. Likewise, strengthening exercises build muscles around OA-affected joints, easing the burden on those joints and reducing pain while range-of-motion exercise helps maintain and improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness.

Although research findings are inconclusive, there is growing evidence suggesting that vitamin D plays a significant role in joint health and that low levels may increase the risk of RA and OA.

And there are some food choices that may trigger inflammation and worsen arthritic symptoms. Those include sugars, saturated fats (pizza and cheese) and trans fats (fast foods and fried foods), omega-6 (found in hydrogenated oils and salad dressings), white flour and processed carbohydrates, MSG, aspartame, alcohol, and salt.

What helps? According to the Arthritis Foundation, the best foods for preventing arthritis symptoms include:

  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Olive, avocado and safflower oil
  • Cherries
  • Calcium-rich foods like dairy OR green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Green tea
  • Citrus
  • Whole grains
  • Beans (red, kidney and pinto)
  • Garlic
  • Nuts (pistachio, walnuts, pine nuts and almonds)

Of course, we see the commercials on television for pain relief ranging from over-the-counter products to prescription medications. Check in with your own physician when the symptoms of arthritis begin. They can provide the best guide to the next step to relieve your aching joints!

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