Photo By: Courtesy of Ted Ray
Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most prevalent and chronic diseases affecting the elderly. Symptomatic OA impacts 9.6 percent of men and 18 percent of women over 60 and is expected to be the fourth-leading cause of disability by 2020.
Common arthritis symptoms – inflammation, pain, stiffness – are typically associated with degeneration of joint tissues. Attempts by the body to repair the joint can lead to calcification of the joint surface, which further impairs mobility.
Typical treatment options include anti-inflammatory medications, but long-term use of such medications has been associated with kidney damage, stomach ulcers and internal bleeding. Another class of anti-inflammatory agents, COX-2 inhibitors, reduce peptic ulceration but carry risks of heart attack and stroke because they can increase levels of the clotting factor thromboxane.
New hope for sufferers
Fortunately, there may be new hope in how we treat conditions like osteoarthritis and prevent it from crippling our aging population.
A key feature of OA is the loss of cartilage on the bone surface and the accompanying inflammation. New research examining the factors that predispose someone to arthritis has shown that there is more to this picture than we first thought.
There is mounting evidence that vascular pathology plays a role in the initiation and progression of OA. Reduced blood flow through the small vessels in the subchondral bone at the ends of long bones can lead to bone death. And while the body is constantly building new bone, those with arthritis seem to be breaking down bone faster than they can repair it.
One thought here is that blood flow may be reduced by venous occlusion (pinching or narrowing) in the veins and development of microemboli (clots) in the subchondral vessels. In plain English: Blood flow is impaired and leads to cell death. These changes in the bone precede and are tied to the breakdown of the articular cartilage and the resulting bone-on-bone irritation.
The takeaway here is that arthritis is both an inflammatory disease and a circulatory disease, with the underlying cause being impaired circulation to the bone tissue. If we look at arthritis from this new perspective, prevention has a whole new meaning. We must both control inflammation and improve microcirculation at the same time.
If you already have arthritis, you know that mobility is a key issue. Regular exercise, stretching and strengthening the muscles around the affected joint will all be helpful. Because sugar is pro-inflammatory, limit refined sugars and sodas.
Consider supplementing with vitamin D and calcium, and eat plenty of leafy, green vegetables. Managing blood-sugar problems is critical, as obesity and insulin resistance lead to increased inflammation and joint loading in the body. For example, losing just 10 pounds can reduce the risk of OA by up to 50 percent.
Finally, there is plenty of clinical evidence supporting acupuncture and several key herbs for addressing various aspects of the OA chain of events.
• Tumeric, ginger, celery seed and Boswellia have plenty of clinical evidence supporting their anti-inflammatory benefits.
• Willow-bark extract (a natural form of aspirin) is a nice alternative for pain management.
• Gotu kola increases collagen synthesis and maturation of collagen.
• Ginkgo biloba acts as an anti-platelet aggregating factor (PAF). PAF, associated with inflammation, improves circulation in arteries, veins and capillaries.
• Grape-seed extract reduces capillary fragility and supports connective tissue.
Ted Ray, L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist in private practice in Mountain View and Woodside. For more information, call 564-9002 or visit www.peninsulaacupuncture.com.