We had such a lovely weekend of spring sunshine, I wanted to talk about joints and joint pain today. My husband used to love going for a run early in the morning as the sun was coming up (or rain more often than not!). He has had to stop just recently, as his knees hurt whenever he runs. He is really gutted about this, it was his favourite way to exercise.
I often hear people saying that now they’re over 40, they can’t do the things they used to – due to knee, hip, shoulder or back pain.
And often this is just an accepted part of ‘getting older’ and managed by popping some ibuprofen when the pain is bad.
But if we can find out the root cause of the pain, we may be able to do something about it.
There are physical reasons for joint pain, like injury, arthritis or sitting at a computer all day. But there are also biochemical forces at play, especially as we get older.
Although we don’t know exactly how, we do know that hormones play a vital role in joint and bone health. Many women start to report joint pain in their 40’s and 50’s as oestrogen levels start to decline.
Oestrogen helps reduce inflammation, the main cause of joint pain and swelling. It helps to increase bone production and regulate fluid levels in your body, reducing oedema and swelling around joints.
Thyroid hormone imbalance can also cause joint and muscle pain, and stiffness.
And excess cortisol, our stress hormone, can inhibit muscle, cartilage and bone production – causing lack of mobility and inflammation.
The food we eat can often lead to inflammation and joint pain. Here’s how that works.
You eat a slice of toast – 2 things happen;
1/ the carbohydrate in bread breaks down to sugar really quickly in your gut and enters your blood. Insulin is released to take the sugar out of your blood and into your liver and cells. Insulin is inflammatory, so the more you produce (eating carbs and sugar) the more inflammation can happen.
2/ the gluten in the bread is also inflammatory – the protein in gluten can irritate the gut wall, making it ‘leaky’. Gluten (and other toxins) can get through into the bloodstream, where our immune system sees it as ‘foreign’ and attacks it. This immune response causes inflammation (anywhere and everywhere).
This can also happen with any food you may be intolerant to (dairy, soy, eggs, etc). And it can happen if you have an infection or you’re exposed to toxins such as pesticides, food additives, artificial sweeteners, and other chemicals.
So joint pain can be due to many factors. Which means there’s a lot you can try doing to relieve it.
What can help?
1. Get your hormones tested for any imbalances – if your doctor won’t do this, most nutritional therapists or naturopaths will be able to order you private tests.
2. Reduce your stress levels – try deep belly breathing, walking, relax tapes, meditation, yoga.
3. Adopt a low GL diet – switch from white carbs to whole grains, reduce caffeine and alcohol.
4. Add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet – oily fish, nuts, seeds, fruit, veg, spices. There is a lot of evidence that turmeric helps with inflammation and pain. You can use it in your cooking or its available in supplement form. Montmorency cherries have also had great results with arthritic pain.
5. Try an elimination diet – gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, yeast are the main culprits.
6. Stay away from processed food – they contain trans fats and many food chemicals.
7. Avoid artificial sweeteners and anything ‘low fat’.
8. Drink plenty of water – dehydration can increase fluid retention around joints.
9. Take some non impact exercise – walking, swimming, pilates, yoga – all great for increasing blood flow to joints.
10. See your health practitioner for advice on supplements that may help reduce inflammation and joint pain.
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The North American Menopause Society; http://www.menopause.org
Kuptniratsaikul et al. (2014) Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Clin Interv Aging. 2014 ;9:451-8. Epub 2014 Mar 20.
Sleigh et al (2012) . Efficacy of tart cherry juice to reduce inflammation among patients with osteoarthritis. American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting.