Reduce Inflammation and Ease Arthritis the Natural Way

Soothe pain and stiffness with herbs and supplements.

| July/August 2005

It starts as a little stiffness when you roll out of bed in the morning. And, while it may be easy to ignore at first, it isn’t long before the stiffness turns to pain that can turn even everyday activities — taking a walk, climbing the stairs — into a challenge.

If you suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), you aren’t alone. In fact, OA is one of the most prevalent chronic health problems in the United States today, affecting more than 20 million people. And the numbers are rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number is expected to rise to 20 percent — about 60 million people — as baby boomers come into their golden years.

Although conventional medicine seemed to have the weapons to stem this growing tide, two popular arthritis drugs, Vioxx and Bextra, were recently pulled from the market after studies linked them to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. To make matters worse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered that 19 other pain relievers — from Celebrex to naproxen — carry tough new label warnings alerting users that these drugs may also cause serious cardiovascular problems and gastrointestinal bleeding, leaving arthritis sufferers wondering where they can turn to safely keep pain at bay.

Understand Inflammation

OA is a degenerative disease that affects the joints, the places where bones come together to allow coordinated movement. There are 206 bones in the human skeleton, and the vast majority of them come together in joints, where a cavity filled with fluid separates the bones from each other. Cartilage (spongy tissue on the end of each bone) cushions the connection and helps keep everything moving smoothly. In OA, however, cartilage begins to break down, causing bone to rub against bone. The result is inflammation, pain and stiffness.

Inflammation, in and of itself, is not bad. In fact, inflammation is part of the body’s automatic healing and repair process. The trouble starts when COX-2 — the enzyme that triggers inflammation — malfunctions.

COX-2 is shorthand for cyclooxygenase-2, an enzyme that turns a stored fat, called arachidonic acid, into prostaglandins, which inflame injured areas. When cartilage is damaged, the body sends out chemical messages for help. COX-2 gets the message and starts to burn arachidonic acid. This process releases byproducts known as prostaglandins that go to the injured area, where they break down the damaged cartilage and begin building new cartilage, as though a demolition crew were tearing down an old wall with the bricklayers right behind them building a new one.

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