Why Vitamins Are Worth It When It Comes To Joint Health
As an orthopedic surgeon, it's quite rewarding to see patients benefit from quality care. You might be surprised to know that some of my most appreciative patients are those who come to me for surgery but never get surgery. Instead they're enrolled in a diet, exercise and supplement program for joint health. And they wind up avoiding surgery and feeling great.
That's why I get mad when I see sensationalized stories about supplements. I recently read an article titled, "Vitamin Supplements Are A Waste Of Money." What a misleading headline! Actually, it's preposterous, since I've seen so many patients benefit over the years.
For nearly a century, we've known about the significant benefits of vitamin C in curing scurvy and vitamin D in curing rickets. In the 1700s, American Indians used a component of the foxglove plant to effectively treat heart ailments. In modern medicine, we currently use that component in a medication called digoxin.
These types of headlines are based on the recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine that have appropriately questioned the value of taking supplements for various medical problems, including heart disease, neurologic disease, and cancer. Misinterpretation of these studies has led many to conclude that supplements, in general, are of no value. The truth is that the studies don't make that totally encompassing statement.
It's my viewpoint that supplements are of considerable value in treating specific disease processes. The key is that the supplements have to be specifically directed toward the disease pathology.
As an orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of practice, I've found that specific supplements, (not multivitamins) are quite effective in treating joint pain from osteoarthritis. When I first started training to be a surgeon, there was no information supporting supplements as a serious means of treating joint pain.
Osteoarthritis was treated with various braces, over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as surgery. That was it. However, research has accumulated over the last two decades which tells us that osteoarthritis is not just "wear and tear." It's more than a disease of the articular cartilage that caps the bones. It's a disease of the cartilage, bone, ligaments, muscles and perhaps, most importantly, the immune system.
About 15 years ago I slowly started to treat people with osteoarthritis, commonly known as "wear and tear arthritis" with a program focusing on diet, exercise and supplements. I am traditionally trained so my training naturally biased my views against supplements.
However, as scientific research revealed more about the intricate processes causing osteoarthritis it became more apparent that various supplements had the ability to specifically address some of these specific pathological processes. Just like vitamin C addresses the molecular deficiency of scurvy, there are supplements that address molecular imbalances of osteoarthritis. I now know that in many situations it is possible to treat osteoarthritis without surgery or prescription medications.
We know that molecular pathways of inflammation play a substantial role in osteoarthritis. Twenty years ago, we definitely didn't know that. Slowly that information is disseminating through the medical community. The process is very slow, however.
My background is in molecular biochemistry, so I'm fascinated by the intricate chemical pathways that cause inflammation and joint pain. Since research has elaborated these pathways, it seems logical that those supplements that curtail the pathways would be effective in helping osteoarthritic symptoms.
Lets discuss a few of those pathways:
- Helpful fats. The fats that you eat become the fats that populate your cell membranes, the cellophane-like sac that encapsulates your cells. Did you know that those membrane fats become the building blocks for molecules that either call for inflammation or fight inflammation? You eat omega-6 rich vegetable oils (like corn and soybean oil) and you encourage the inflammation that causes joint pain. However, you create building blocks to fight inflammation by eating omega-3 rich salmon or flaxseed. If you can't eat enough omega 3s, then supplement up to 2 grams per day!
- Inflammation Fighters. NFkB is the name of a family of molecules that jump-start the production of inflammatory molecules. Fight NFkB and you fight inflammation and joint pain. Studies show that green tea (270 mg of EGCG, the active component) and pomegranate (250mg, twice per day), among others, affect NFkB. It's hard to consume enough cups of green tea or enough pomegranates so try supplementing them and you're helping your joints and fighting inflammation.
- Antioxidant Assistance. Glutathione is the body's main antioxidant. It fights the free radicals from, for example, pollution, chemicals that we eat and stress that cause inflammation in the body. The easiest way to increase your glutathione levels is to supplement your diet with NAC (up to 600mg per day), an amino acid that comes in a capsule.
Through my research and experience with patients I've found 20 supplements, including, among others, omega-3s, green tea, pomegranate extract, ginger and NAC that can help address joint pain and joint health.
For years, I've been using them in conjunction with diet and exercise to help osteoarthritic symptoms. I understand that some people have joint disease that necessitates surgery, while others need prescription medication, but a vast number of people don't. And by avoiding surgery and prescription medications, you avoid their complications and side effects.
If you want to maintain joint health or treat osteoarthritic joint pain without using mainstream treatments, there is another way. All you have to do is reach out and grab it. And despite what some may say, supplements are certainly a part of that process.
You'll need to change some eating habits, you'll need to exercise and you'll need to take supplements, but if you do, I'm confident you'll see a change in how you feel. With some discipline and perseverance, you may defy the doubters and marvel at joints that feel amazingly supple and even youthful.
Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.