May is National Arthritis Month. Spearheaded by the Arthritis Foundation, it’s a time to increase awareness of this leading cause of disability. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, limiting the activities of nearly 19 million adults. By the year 2030, 67 million (25%) adults aged 18 years and older will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
The word arthritis actually means joint inflammation. Arthritis comprises more than 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions, the most common of which is osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of joint cartilage, the connective tissue that cushions the joints. Other frequently occurring forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and gout. Although arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, people of all ages (including children) can be affected.
Joint supporting nutrients such as glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and devil’s claw help support optimal structural health.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar required for the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans, carbohydrate-containing compounds that are the major structural components of cartilage. Studies demonstrate that glucosamine is also capable of protecting connective tissues, relieving pain, and reversing the progression of joint degeneration.
MSM is a naturally occurring sulfur compound. Sulfur is required for the production and repair of cartilage. MSM is also thought to have soothing and pain-reducing properties. Although MSM is found in many fresh foods, it is easily destroyed in cooking and processing. Thus, it makes sense to supplement the diet with MSM to ensure an adequate supply in the body.
Chondroitin is a sulfated glycosaminoglycan that is important in maintaining the structural integrity of connective tissue. Chondroitin sulfate is produced by chondrocytes and performs the important function of attracting fluid into the cartilage. This gives cartilage its spongy-like form, making it a good shock absorber. Evidence suggests that chondroitin sulfate protects cartilage and helps prevent cartilage breakdown.
Hyaluronic acid (also known as HA or hyaluronan) is a non-sulfated glycosaminoglycan that occurs naturally throughout the body. It is found most abundantly in the skin, cartilage, synovial fluid, and eyes. Hyaluronic acid plays a major role in joint lubrication and is critical in maintaining joint health. Research indicates that hyaluronic acid may prevent joint inflammation, and the breakdown of cartilage.
Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is named for the tiny hooks that cover its fruit. Devil’s claw root has been used for thousands of years in Africa for pain reduction. Devils claw root contains phytochemicals known as iridoid glycosides, including harpagoside, that have soothing, and anti-inflammatory effects. Studies show that taking devil’s claw root significantly reduces pain and improves physical functioning in people with joint pain.