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Them bones

Martha Brennan, owner-manager of health store Harvest Fare in Blessington, Co Wicklow explores the key to healthy joints and bones

Joint health or pain and stiffness is a very common issue that both men and women ask us about.

These customers tend to be in their 40s onwards and mostly suffer from suspected or diagnosed arthritis. Also, increasingly younger people are arriving in to us with exercise related problems.

Acid build-up

Inflammation causes pain, swelling and stiffness. When our bodies become too acidic (caused by lifestyle factors such as diet and environment) this can lead to a build-up of lactic acid and also high histamine levels. These then contribute to an acidic build-up around the joint area, causing an inflammatory response in the body. (It can also lead to fatigue, skin problems and digestive issues.)

Mineral deficiency can also contribute to an acidic system. Crucial alkalising minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and boron are lost through perspiration and urination.

So, proper hydration is key for our joints, to ensure basic lubrication and also to help flush out the uric acid crystals that can build up, contributing to that pain. Nettle in tea, capsule, tablet or tincture form is great to help with this, and we have great feedback from people drinking tart cherry juice for this kind of pain. Apple cider vinegar as well as green juices are also great for alkalising the system.

Other causes of an acidic body include stress, diet choices, excess alcohol, overuse of antibiotics and lack of sleep.

Food for bones

When advising customers we emphasise leafy greens and nuts and seeds as well as good quality dairy.

  • Reducing refined sugars, processed foods, corn, grains, animal products, caffeine, alcohol and the nightshade family (potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines) can help with the reduction of inflammation that leads to pain.
  • Limiting meat consumption to good quality produce from your local butcher once or twice a week will make a big difference. If you choose to go meat-free and concentrate on plant-based protein then sources such as quinoa and tofu will reduce the acidic load further.
  • Avoid processed meats completely and where possible include oily fish in the diet for its omega-3 content. Mackerel, sardines and salmon are particularly rich in omega-3.
  • Introduce green tea, white tea, Rooibos tea and herbal teas.
  • Eat plenty of alkaline foods such as fruit – bananas, avocados, grapes, pears and apricots; vegetables – beetroot, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, kale, peas and sweet potatoes; oils – olive, avocado and coconut; nuts and seeds – walnuts, almonds, cashew, linseed, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower; cereals – millet and quinoa; fermented soya such as tempeh; green powders such as spirulina, wheatgrass and chlorella.
  • Increase essential fatty acids in the diet, through oily fish or milled seeds and seed oils.
  • Prunes – there are interesting studies on eating 8-10 prunes daily for bone strength with benefits comparable to that achieved on osteoporosis medication.

The role of omega-3s

It’s hugely important to eat enough oily fish or omega-3-rich seeds like linseeds or chia or nuts like walnuts. If people can’t manage this then we recommend omega-3 supplements with high levels of EPA to reduce inflammation. These essential fatty acid supplements can be taken as capsules or liquid and come as fish, seed or algae oils.

Anti-inflammatory herbs

Most people are now familiar with the joint benefits of the Indian spice turmeric. It is easily included in our diet, ideally cooked in dishes or as golden milk where it is combined with other beneficial spices such as ginger, cinnamon and cardamom with a twist of black pepper using dairy or plant milk, sweetened however you prefer. Turmeric supplements where the compound curcumin has been extracted can provide benefits. The herbs boswellia, rosehip and white willow are also beneficial.

Keep on moving

Being overweight can put a strain on your joints and make any problems in this area worse. People who exercise regularly have been shown to have greater bone density. When starting a new exercise regime try swimming, walking or a gentle exercise such as Pilates reformer, then move up to Pilates, yoga, or weight training. If you get any aches and pains after exercise bathe in Epsom salts which should give you relief. MSM is also good to take after exercise too or generally for joint pain.

Natural help for bone health

Everyone knows the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bones, but magnesium and vitamin K2 are critical. There are some great formulas available with all of these vitamins and minerals combined. These supplements can also help:

  • Boron – plays an important role in stimulating bone growth.
  • Boswellia – pain relieving, anti-inflammatory.
  • Bromelain – an enzyme that supports the digestion of protein which is needed to repair damaged tissue.
  • Calcium – vital for healthy bones.
  • Collagen supplements (specifically Type 2 collagen) are very good for joint health, helping to repair damaged cartilage and possibly helping with inflammation.
  • ASU (a substance produced from soya and avocado oil) is available here as part of a joint complex and we have great feedback on it for pain and stiffness.
  • Vitamin D3 – promotes the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorous.
  • Glucosamine – helps maintain cartilage structure.
  • Magnesium – vital for healthy bones.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – essential nutrients for bone health and strength. Reduce symptoms of swelling, pain and stiffness.
  • Vitamin B12 – keeps homocysteine levels down, an amino acid linked to bone fracture.
  • Vitamin K – the MK-7 form of vitamin K2 directs the calcium in our diet towards the skeleton.
  • Turmeric – pain relieving and anti-inflammatory.

Ask in your local health store for advice on their range of bone support supplements and anti-inflammatory herbs.

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