Bone loss. Joint pain. They're the price of years of poor posture and poorer eating habits, of bad shoes and worse genes. To some degree, these bodily breakdowns are a biological inevitability. As we age, for instance, we are more likely to lose bone than we are to build or strengthen it. And because the joints in our legs, hips and back are jolted by a force four times our body weight with each step we take, it's no wonder that their cushioning starts to thin over time.
Still, we don't have to accept the inevitable. These days, growing old gracefully means fighting off the deterioration in our bodies that, unchecked, will render us anything but graceful. There are things we can do -- well-padded steps we can take -- to keep our bones and joints in the best shape possible. And we can do it all naturally.
Pins and Needles
Acupuncture, the 2,000-year-old mainstay of Chinese medicine, is rapidly becoming the darling of the West. A study from the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Md.) found that needles inserted into nine acupuncture points across the body resulted in a 40 percent decrease in pain and increased arthritic patients' ability to function.
The Thunder God
Because joint pain is almost always a result of inflammation, treatment often focuses on stopping the chemicals and cellular messengers that bring on the heat and swelling. There are a number of natural remedies that purport to do just that. In at least one study, the roots of the romantically named Chinese Thunder God Vine (and its active ingredient, triptolide) reduced pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients with only a few, minor side effects, despite the fact that its leaves and flowers can be toxic.
The SuperheroesMore encouraging still are reports on glucosamine and chondroitin. Both received attention in two trials, one conducted in the United States and the other in Europe. The U.S. trial -- sponsored by the NIH -- found that a glucosamine-chondroitin combo was better than either supplement on its own for knee pain in some 1,200 osteoarthritis sufferers. The European study found that glucosamine reduced knee pain better than the active ingredient in Tylenol. Study authors say the benefits come from glucosamine's ability to help create cartilage and chondroitin's ability to stop it from breaking down. Critics point out, though, that these studies have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals.From the Deep BlueA number of studies have connected omega-3 fatty acids -- which stop inflammation in its tracks -- to fewer tender joints, less morning stiffness and decreased need for anti-inflammatory drugs in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3s are beneficial in multiple inflammatory and arthritic conditions. Just two meals a week consisting of 4 to 6 ounces of omega-3-rich fish can bring joint inflammation down. Omega-3s are found in cold-water fish like herring, mackerel and salmon.The Estrogen QuestionBone loss among postmenopausal women is accelerated by the lack of estrogen. Hence the interest in phytoestrogens -- naturally occurring plant compounds that are very similar in structure and action to estrogen. Women from Hong Kong, China and Japan, where diets are rich in phytoestrogens, have significantly lower rates of hip and other types of bone fracture. Still, the case for phytoestrogens is not yet closed: Women in Japan, for instance, seem to have higher rates of vertebral fractures than Caucasian women. Until there is more evidence, it may be safer to stay away from phytoestrogen supplements. But what can't hurt and may well help is upping your intake of phytoestrogen-rich foods -- like soy-based products such as soybeans, soy milk and tofu.
The Spotlight on CalciumCalcium is the cement that stiffens a collagen scaffold to create bone. But when there's not enough calcium in the body, the mineral leaches out of our bones for use elsewhere -- like keeping the heart beating -- leaving those scaffolds porous and fragile. To preserve our bones, we need between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. You should, of course, get as much calcium from food as possible: Dairy products are great, but aren't the only source. Other high-calcium foods include broccoli and kale, nuts and seeds. Also, dandelion leaves are chock-full of calcium, as are oats, oat-straw and kelp.Next: The supporting cast behind bone-building >
Source: Health & Wellness