The tide of popular thinking on aging is beginning to turn. It is no longer accepted that aging has to be a downhill slide. If you begin taking care of yourself at an earlier age, your advanced years can be happy, healthy and productive.
What does taking care of yourself really mean? Broken down, it simply means to watch what you eat, make sure you’re active, get quality rest and make time for laughter, friends and family. Sounds like every other decade of your life, right? Technically speaking, it is, but to continue this vigilance into your advancing years is how you gracefully and productively “grow old”.
Today’s world is flooded with research and information, available from a multitude of sources to anyone who wants it, on topics such as nutrition, exercise and disease prevention. We are truly luckier than previous generations to have access to comprehensive knowledge about chronic diseases and in-depth details on how to prevent them. Taking advantage of this information and putting it into practice in our daily lives is how we give ourselves the best chance of living to a ripe old age in prime condition.
In this article we will take a look at a few common conditions and how we can best implement strategies to ward them off for as long as possible.
The word “arthritis” is from the Greek arthro, meaning joint and -itis meaning inflammation. It is a condition that can cause pain due to swelling, redness, and heat mainly in your joints (where two bones meet). These symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly.
The common thinking today is that the older you get, the more likely you are to encounter arthritis. This is where being proactive, rather than reactive, may help delay the inevitable. Some argue that genetics play a large role in who gets arthritis and who doesn’t. While this is probably true, a proactive approach on your part delays the flipping of that particular genetic switch.
The term arthritis is used as a sort of shorthand term for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions – as a sort of label for the more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround joints and other connective tissue.
Each form of arthritis has a different cause. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis; a degenerative joint disease which can result from trauma to the joint, infection of the joint or simply degeneration over time (aging). The next most common types are gout, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a chronic (long-term), systemic (affecting the body as a whole) autoimmune disorder (abnormal functioning of the immune system that causes the production of antibodies against one’s own tissues) that causes the immune system to attack the joints, causing inflammation and destruction.
So, what can be done to delay the onset of arthritis? Well, there are two sets of factors at play; non-modifiable risk factors and modifiable risk factors. Here are their outlines:
Non-modifiable risk factors
- Age: The risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age.
- Gender: Most types of arthritis are more common in women; 60% of the people with arthritis are women. Gout is more common in men.
- Genetics: Specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and ankylosing spondylitis.
Modifiable risk factors
- Overweight and Obesity: Excess weight can contribute to both the onset and progression of knee osteoarthritis.
- Joint Injuries: Damage to a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.
- Infection: Many microbial agents can infect joints and potentially cause the development of various forms of arthritis.
- Occupation: Certain occupations involving repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. 1
What are the treatments for arthritis?
The focus of treatment for arthritis is to control pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain function and quality of life. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the treatment of arthritis might involve the following:
- Nonpharmacologic therapies such as physical or occupational therapy, splints or joint assistive aids, patient education and support, and weight loss
In conjunction with medical treatment, becoming the CEO of Self-Management of arthritis symptoms is very important as well.
Pain Management 101
Arthritis pain can be so intense and constant, it dominates your every waking moment and many a sleepless night. It has a purpose; all those overexcited nerve cells are racing to inform the brain that harm is being done to one (or more) of your joints. In response, the brain signals muscles in the affected area to contract as a form of protection. The resulting painful spasms prevent you from using the joint normally, while the body makes its mostly futile attempts to effect repairs. 3
Pain medications will, most undoubtedly, be one of the supportive therapies your medical professional will prescribe. Getting to know all you can about these medications is important, whether they are prescription medications or over-the-counter analgesics. Please remember that painkillers only temporarily reduce the pain; the drawback being that when the pain goes away, however temporarily, you could be tempted to overwork the joint and cause more damage, negating any benefits you might get from keeping the joint moving.
Stay Active – One of the most important things you can do is to stay active, even through the pain, within moderation of course. Move around as much as you can to keep your joints in use. The old adage “move it or lose it” really does apply here.
Omega 3’s – A diet high in marine oils from cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna has been shown to reduce the inflammation of joint conditions such as arthritis. Unfortunately, North American diets have shown to be lacking in the omega-3’s; we just don’t eat enough fish. This is where supplementing with omega-3’s from cold-water fish oil sources can be helpful as one of your management tools.
As a side note, EPA and DHA (common long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) can also restore brain cell membrane surfaces, helpful for memory, learning and other nerve cell communication. Both EPA and DHA can benefit a host of cardiovascular problems from reducing LDL to raising levels of good HDL and more.
Physiotherapy – A physiotherapist will work with you to devise an exercise program to help prevent muscle wastage and to strengthen and increase the joint’s range of motion.
Non-Medicinal Techniques to Relieve Pain – Some non-medicinal pain strategies — such as rest and energy conservation, sleep and relaxation — can achieve dramatic results, despite their apparent simplicity. Don’t be deceived: There are components to each that require an effort, though with practice you’ll find they become easier and more effective. Don’t feel guilty about taking time to make them part of your schedule; taking breaks to rest and relax and sleep better will actually save time in the long run, because if they’re done properly, you’ll have more energy and less pain to do the things that are important to you. They aren’t meant to replace your prescribed medication and regular treatment plan, but they’re often extremely effective complementary therapies.
Here’s a list you may want to consider:
- Creams and gels
- Heat and Cold
- Imagery, Focusing and Self-Hypnosis
- Rest and Energy Conservation
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)4
TENS – Another approach entirely was developed by Dr. Patrick Wall, one of the co-authors of the gate-control theory; it’s called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS. Electrodes taped to the skin near a painful area are wired to a battery-operated stimulator, which produces a continuous series of electrical pulses that ‘close the gate’ on the nerve cells that transmit pain signals to the brain. (Like biofeedback, it’s perfectly safe; there’s no chance you’re going to electrocute yourself.) You adjust the strength of the pulses until you feel a slight tingling. What it does is bombard the nerve ends in the affected area with electrical stimuli; that appears to change the input going into the dorsal horn (part of the spinal cord), so that it actually ends up ‘closing the gate’ and turning off the pain.5
Natural Factors’ superior remedy for painful joints and connective tissue contains a combination of MSM (Methyl-sulfonyl-methane), glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate. This combination works to maintain the structural integrity of joints and connective tissue while it jump starts the healing process. Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin protect the cartilage and connective tissue and optimize joint function. MSM is a powerful nontoxic therapeutic agent that inhibits pain impulses, lessens inflammation, increases blood supply, reduces muscle spasms and softens scar tissue.
Cognitive function is just two big words that define brain activities such as memory, reasoning, perception, concentration and learning ability. In short, brainpower. And maintaining these activities at peak performance is easier than you think. Much like putting the right fuel in your car, the right nutrients keep your brain functioning the way it was meant to.
Studies are showing that in women who diet and neglect their iron intake, short-term memory and concentration suffer and that the ability to concentrate begins its decline long before a deficiency can be detected. In men, a decline in the levels of iron and zinc decreases attention span.
There is growing evidence that getting enough B vitamins can prevent, slow or reverse deterioration in memory and other mental capacities. B vitamins – particularly folic acid (or folate), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 – are known to play a role in the production of important brain chemicals required for cognition and other brain functions.
Researchers also are examining the effects of B vitamins from another angle. It seems that individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia have higher levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in their blood. B vitamins help to break down homocysteine in the body. Increased homocysteine levels have also been linked to a greater risk for heart disease and stroke. 6
Nature intended our bodies to get vitamins, minerals, amino acids and such from the food we eat. In this way, we are getting the natural structures and correct combinations that allow our body to make the best use of the vitamins, etc., from the food it digests. In today’s world, we tend to neglect our diets. It follows, then, that eating a widely varied diet of fruits & vegetables (preferably raw), whole grains, fish, legumes and a good balance of carbohydrates, healthy fats and proteins help us avoid a brainpower blackout.
European studies have shown that Ginkgo biloba increases blood flow to the brain and extremities, helping to improve memory and mental sharpness. Ginkgo may be helpful for the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease; circulation problems, especially intermittent claudication; vertigo and tinnitus, if of vascular origin. Ginkgo flavone glycosides are a balanced group of bioflavonoids primarily responsible for Ginkgo’s ability to inhibit platelet aggregation (stickiness) and its antioxidant activity. Terpene lactones (ginkgolides and bilobalide) improve circulation, inhibit platelet activating factor (PAF) and protect nerve cells.
Think of your immune system as your own private army.
The immune system is an intricately connected network of specialized cells and organs which work very much like a powerful, computerized defense system. The system is on 24 hour a day alert and its primary mission is to protect our health by detecting, identifying, mobilizing the forces, and destroying harmful and/or foreign substances e.g. virus, bacteria. Some of the principle cells and organs of the immune system are the lymphoid tissues, the thymus gland, the spleen, bone marrow, the tonsils and adenoids, and the white blood cells. Part of our immunity is inherited and the rest we obtain through our immune system’s responses to foreign substances we encounter as we go through life. This amazing defense system remembers every disease, foreign body, virus, etc. we have ever been exposed to and is capable of producing millions of different antibodies, each antibody programmed to seek out and destroy a specific invader when it is detected. When our immune system is working at its optimal level, we are able to enjoy life and good health.
Unfortunately, as we age, the ability of our immune system to function at normal levels decreases. The immune system is one of the most important mechanisms our body has for fighting disease and preserving health, so a decrease in the level of disease-fighting cells is significant.
We know that physical activity has been associated with an improved immune system. As people age, their activity level tapers off and with this decline in physical activity, physical problems develop. Among these problems is a susceptibility to pathogens (microorganisms capable of producing disease).
In addition, studies have shown that seniors who engaged in 30 minutes or more of physical activity 5 times per week, showed improvements in physical functioning. Seventy volunteers 70 or older participated in random home-based progressive strength, balance, general-physical-activity intervention, or received home-based nutrition education. After six months, each volunteer was tested for strength, balance, gait speed and cardiovascular endurance. The researchers concluded that minimally supervised exercise is safe and can improve functional performance in elderly individuals. 8
Physical activity also allows you to maintain an “active” social life (no pun intended). Getting out for a walk with friends lifts your spirits and is great for your immune system, not to mention your digestive system, muscles and lungs.
Maintain a Proper Diet
Good nutrition is important for optimum immune function and that includes lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, fibre, and calcium rich foods. As we age and our activity levels drop, so does our appetite. In this case, consider adding supplements to augment your diet and make up for what might be lacking.
Establish and Maintain a Regular Sleep Pattern
Sleep not only provides rest and rejuvenation for our physical body, it also helps reinforce and replenish the immune system.
Odds and Sods
Other lifestyle factors can inhibit the immune system’s ability to work properly. Increased stress, carcinogens found in pollution, anxiety, pain, under-active glands or organs and some medications can all have a less than helpful affect.
In addition to vitamin C’s powerful antioxidant and infection-fighting properties, this product contains added bioflavonoids. These plant components are known to improve circulation, memory and varicose veins, and to reduce high blood pressure and risk of stroke. Vitamin C is necessary to maintaining all collagen structures, thereby promoting wound repair, strong bones and teeth, and healthy gums. As a powerful antioxidant it protects the aqueous areas of the body (including the blood, intracellular fluid and interstitial fluid) from free radicals. Vitamin C protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation and also helps to regenerate vitamin E.
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 9 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.
1. CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
2. CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
3. The Arthritis Society
4. The Arthritis Society
5. The Arthritis Society
6. Battling Brain Fog, 07-12-2004, Betsy Hornick, The Chicago Tribune
7. Osteoporosis Canada
8. Boost Your Immune System, Chris Christian, May 16, 2008