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Integrative Medicine: Arthritis

Chances are, you or someone you know has dealt with one form of arthritis or another. According to the latest data from the National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 50 million adults in the United States have arthritis, and close to half of those people have physical limitations because of their arthritis symptoms.

There are many different types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus (both inflammatory autoimmune disorders) and gout. The CDC even lists fibromyalgia as a type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis.

People with arthritis often try alternative approaches to healing, as the drugs that are used to treat arthritis often have side effects, or may not be effective enough to significantly relieve pain and reduce disability. Several recent studies have shown promise in this area.

An 18-month study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the impact of weight loss and exercise on 454 overweight or obese adults 55 and older with osteoarthritis of the knees. In this study, participants who lost at least 10 percent of their baseline body weight had a significant improvement in both pain and function; those who lost weight and exercised had even better outcomes – they had improvements in pain and function, as well as mobility, quality of life, and blood markers of inflammation. Pain was reduced by about 50 percent in this group.

In another recent study in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, scientists in Sweden looked at the effect of fish intake on the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers followed more than 32,000 women born between 1914 and 1948 and estimated the amount of dietary omega-3 fats they consumed based on their reported consumption of fish; this information was gathered from dietary questionnaires that the women completed in 1987 and 1997 as part of the Swedish Mammography cohort.

Those women who consumed an average of about 1,500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per week (equivalent to about one serving of fatty fish like salmon), compared to women who consumed less, had a 29 percent lower risk of developing RA. Those women who consumed fish more than once a week had a 52 percent reduction in risk. The researchers also found what’s called a threshold effect: The benefit seemed to disappear in women who ate more than 2,400 mg of omega-3 oils per week, indicating more is not necessarily better. Your best bet is to eat about 2 servings of fatty fish per week.

And finally, another recent study looked at the impact of cherries on the symptoms of gout. Researchers from Boston University Medical Center studied about 550 patients with gout and assessed their intake of cherries or cherry extract. Those people who consumed the cherry products had a 35 percent lower risk of developing a gout attack.

So here are three approaches to help reduce your risk of various forms of arthritis: Keep your weight normal and exercise on a regular basis to reduce your risk of osteoarthritis, eat fish every week to minimize your risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and consider eating cherries, especially if you have gout.

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