If you’re a regular follower of this newsletter, you may be wondering why joint health is today’s topic, since it was covered a few months ago. The truth is, I had a bout with joint pain myself recently, and I’m here to tell you about some additional remedies I’ve uncovered. Several are new, while others are familiar to the integrative health world. But the key thing is this: They work! Actually, they worked for me (and many of my patients), so I hope you can find relief by trying them, too.
Last year, I had surgery to repair a torn ACL — short for anterior cruciate ligament, one of four ligaments connecting the knee joint.
My knee healed nicely, and I thought that was the end of the story. Fast forward to February of this year. I had just moved to a different house and was taking advantage of a long flight of stairs nearby for working out. The first few days, no problem. When I woke up on the fourth day, I noticed my knee was a bit stiff. I took extra care to warm up and stretch thoroughly before the stair climb, but I had to quit part way through because of knee pain.
You might think it’s easy for a doctor to deal with health problems, and sometimes it is. But I tried all the first-line remedies — RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) and extra fish oil — yet relief was temporary at best. Clearly, it was time to do more research. What I learned was fascinating and even a little frightening. Even if you’re not suffering from joint aches and pains, I do hope you’ll read on because what I discovered can make a tremendous difference in your health.
The Trouble with Sitting
The problem with my knee turned out to be exactly what I’ve warned patients about for the past 20-plus years — too much sitting. After the knee surgery, I wasn’t able to exercise for several weeks, so I was a bit out of shape.
When my doctor said I could work out again, I started in slowly with just a short walk in the morning. Things were very busy at work, so I used that as an excuse to avoid more exercise during the day. Instead of standing up in the exam rooms, I sat, telling myself it would help my knee. In the evenings, instead of playing tennis or going swimming, I read. And that meant more sitting.
Naturally, I gained a few pounds. But I kept telling myself that as soon as things calmed down at work, I would get back to serious exercising. The truth is, the only thing getting exercise was my ability to make excuses.
Then Natalie, a long-time patient, came in looking about 40 pounds slimmer than I had ever seen her. When I asked what her secret was, she replied, “I took your advice and started getting up and moving every 20 or 30 minutes. Even if all I can do is get up from my desk and walk around my office, that’s fine. It’s made a huge difference.”
Talk about a lightbulb experience! In all the turmoil, I had forgotten to take my own advice. A number of studies prove the dangers of prolonged sitting. That holds true even for people who exercise vigorously at some point during the day. It’s the lengthy, post-exercise stretches of sitting that cancel out the earlier workout. In fact, these findings have spawned a mini-industry of stand-up and treadmill desks that allow you to stand or even walk while working!
More Movement Makes a Difference
When your muscles are inactive for long stretches, what happens is not pretty. Metabolism slows, muscles weaken, the body’s response to insulin falters, free-radical damage increases, and the important functions required for cell repair slow down. We can’t see any of this, of course, but it is happening. Eventually, changes like these lead to heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health complications.
Here’s one quick example: An eight-year-long study of more than 240,000 healthy adults found that those who spent seven hours a day watching television were among those most likely to die prematurely, even if they exercised an hour each day. Not surprisingly, those who watched the least amount of TV (less than an hour a day) had the lowest risk of dying. Time spent watching television is simply a marker for sedentary behavior, so it’s reasonable to assume that any kind of prolonged sitting — whether you’re watching TV, reading, talking on the phone, or working at the computer — is equally damaging to health.
Being a doctor, I know all this. And yet sometimes, even doctors need a little wake-up call to get back on track. Natalie provided that reminder. I began walking through my office building between appointments. Those short strolls lasted only a few minutes each, but research shows that even two-minute walks every 20 minutes or so help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. (If you need to review why blood sugar management is essential for good health, you’ll find that information here.)
Pain Relief Starts Here
The short walks, plus longer workouts every other day, helped me shed the weight I’d gained. And that’s important because simply losing weight can alleviate a great deal of joint pain.
But my knee was not yet 100 percent; there were still little twinges of pain now and then. Regular readers know I’m no fan of painkillers; both over-the-counter and prescription versions have been linked to serious stomach and heart complications. So I hit the books again to look for remedies. Good news! I found some impressive, safe, and natural ways to manage pain and encourage healthy joints. Here is my list:
Apple cider vinegar: Mix two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar and two teaspoons of raw organic honey into a glass of water. Drinking vinegar and honey twice a day eases joint pain for many people.
Boswellia: For centuries, extracts of the Boswellia serrata tree have been used as pain-relieving medicine, especially for osteoarthritis. Take 500 mg twice a day.
Curcumin: Strong antioxidant properties make curcumin beneficial for overall health. Additional research shows that it eases pain in joints. Try 500 mg once daily with or after a meal.
Ginger: This powerful antioxidant reduces pain and swelling. Use the dried herb or fresh root in cooking, or try supplements. I recommend 500 mg per day divided into two daily doses.
Grape seed extract: An excellent supplement for heart health with an ability to strengthen blood vessels, grape seed extract (GSE) can ease arthritis pain. Try 150 mg per day divided into three daily doses.
Green tea: Research indicates that green tea improves the cholesterol profile, reduces the risk of colon and prostate cancers, and helps with weight management. A recent study focusing on the green tea extract known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) shows that EGCG reduces pain-causing inflammation. Supplements are available, but drinking real green tea is preferable, since it contains a number of other beneficial substances. For the best health results, try drinking four or five cups daily.
UC-II: UC-II stands for undenatured type II collagen. Although UC-II is a relatively new kid on the pain-relief block, a series of recent studies show that it is more powerful than glucosamine and chondroitin for relief from arthritis pain, both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Perhaps most impressively, it actually helps build cartilage. UC-II also has an impressive safety profile, A standard dose is about 40 mg taken at night on an empty stomach. If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, I make it available on the Newport Natural Health website here.
I don’t recommend that you take all these remedies at once. Instead, try one for a few weeks and see how you feel. Often what works for one person does nothing for another, and that applies to prescription medications as well as integrative remedies. But rather than throwing in the towel, move on and try something different. Or look for a combination product that includes several of these pain relievers. Many patients reported success at remedying pain by using one or more of these natural methods. As always, if you’re taking prescription medication for another ailment, please check with your physician or pharmacist about possible drug interactions.