ARTHRITIS & ANTIOXIDANTS

 

Many elderly people find their mobility becomes increasingly restricted with age. There are two basic forms of arthritis: the most frequent is osteoarthritis and the less common is rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a ‘wear and tear’ disorder of the joint cartilage, associated with changes in the underlying bone which cause joint problems. The parts of the body most frequently affected are the hip, knee and thumb joints. Osteoarthritis may also be caused by overuse of a certain joint, such as the knees and feet of athletes. This form of arthritis can be picked up by X-rays which reveal the narrowing of the joint spaces due to cartilage loss. Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to damage to the immune system and is detected by a blood test, which shows the presence of the rheumatoid factor, and also by X-rays which reveal changes around the affected joints. Less is known about rheumatoid arthritis, but it is thought to be linked to genetic disorders, diet and certain types of infection.

The term ‘arthritic’ is used to describe any kind of sore, stiff or aching joints. There may be several reasons why this soreness occurs, but the underlying cause in all cases is inflammation within the joints. The symptoms in each case are similar, too: swelling, warmth, redness of the overlying skin, joint deformities and restricted mobility. One of the most important clues in seeking a cure for arthritis is the action of free radicals within the body. Internal inflammation is almost always triggered by free radical activity, so the theory is that antioxidant nutrients may be able to reduce or even prevent this. Within the joints there is a lubricant called synovial fluid which ‘oils’ the joints and allows them to move freely. When free radicals get into the synovial fluid they cause it to lose its lubricating properties by oxidizing the fats in the fluid. Once it has been damaged in this way the synovial fluid is unable to lubricate the joints effectively and the result is severe inflammation. In a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1992, researchers at the London Hospital found that ‘lipid peroxidation of the cell membranes results in a decrease in membrane fluidity ... these pathological changes result in tissue inflammation. Thus, there is a sound rationale for antioxidant therapy.’

The ACE vitamins may have an important role in neutralizing the excess levels of free radicals that damage the synovial fluid in the joints. Many people with arthritis report that their symptoms subside if they switch to a wholefood diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in processed refined foods. One reason for this may be that by doing so, they are automatically boosting their levels of the ACE vitamins, and certainly many nutritionists believe that diet plays a key role in the long term control of this debilitating disease.

A study reported in The Lancet in 1991 describes how arthritic patients on a one-year vegetarian diet benefited from reduced swelling, greater mobility of the joints and a stronger grip. The special diet started with a week-long fast during which patients took only herbal teas, garlic, vegetable broth and juice extracts from carrots, beets and celery. After their fast, patients were put on an ‘exclusion’ diet where foods were introduced one at a time to identify any allergic reactions. Wheat, citrus fruits, sugar and dairy products are all believed to provoke the symptoms of arthritis. To boost their frugal diet, the volunteers were given food supplements, including a daily dose of beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. At the end of the year, those who had made changes in their diet had greatly improved, while the control group who made no changes got even worse. This study shows that those who boost their intake of the ACE vitamins can improve their condition. Not only did the patients take supplements of beta-carotene and vitamin E, they also increased their intake by drinking carrot juice (rich in beta-carotene) and eating many more fresh fruits and vegetables (rich in vitamin C). Their increased levels of antioxidants are thought to have improved arthritis by keeping down the levels of free radicals in the synovial fluid and maintaining optimum movement. Preventing the build-up of free radicals helps to reduce the symptoms of heat, pain and swelling that they cause.

Studies investigating the role of the ACE vitamins in arthritis reveal that sufferers have low levels of vitamin C. This is possibly because vitamin C is used to fight the free radicals produced within the synovial fluid. Vitamin C is important for keeping mobile as it is a vital part of the cartilage and collagen found in the joints, and some limited research also suggests that vitamin C can help reduce back pain by maintaining the tissues surrounding the discs in the spine. Vitamin E has also been shown to help cases of arthritis. In animals, a lack of vitamin E causes a form of the condition which can be remedied by giving the animals vitamin E supplements, another indicator that it is important to eat sufficient amounts of the ACE vitamins to protect our joints against arthritis. Further studies involving the power of the ACE vitamins to combat serious disorders that most often affect the elderly, including heart disease and cancer, are reviewed in the following chapter

 

    

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Last modified: December 18, 2005