Are you ensuring your diet and lifestyle is supportive of your joint and bone health? Our experts offer their suggestions for simple swaps to keep this system functioning.
We place a lot of pressure on our joints and bones in our modern living, through a variety of factors. Some we can’t do a huge amount about but others, such as the focus we place on our nutrient levels, are well within our control.
So, what do you need to know to keep the musculoskeletal system working at it should? And what issues should you be mindful of?
Keeley Berry, Nutritional Expert and Product Developer at BetterYou, explained: “In the UK, an ageing population is often considered the reason for an increase in those requiring medication, surgery or support with joint or bone related health issues. As we age, nutrition for our joints and bones becomes more important due to the reduction in the body’s production of hydrochloric acid. Essentially, we become less able to break down and absorb the nutrients from our food, which can result in nutritional gaps, even amongst those with a healthy, balanced diet.
“However, it’s not just those over the age of 65 that can begin to experience these problems. Most people actually reach peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 35 – and from 40 years’ onwards, bone mass slowly begins to decrease, meaning it’s vital to take care of your bones and joints from a young age.
“Among the most common issues are, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and gout. Symptoms most commonly experienced more often than not includes stiffness and loss of flexibility, swelling, tenderness or inflammation. In some cases of arthritis, sharp pain or an aching sensation in the joints can be felt, caused by the wearing away of cartilage.”
Rachel Bartholomew, Nutritionist and Health Writer at Nutri Advanced, continued: “Think about the amazing job our joints do for us throughout our lives. They enable movement to happen between bones that allows us to act and move. Our joints withstand years of use. It’s no wonder that most of us, at some stage, suffer with a joint problem, be it an injury, or in future years, arthritis as a result of the wear and tear of life’s activities. Others may deal with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, which can be very chronic and debilitating.”
And what are the risk factors for this?
“As we age, there is an increased risk that manageable pain and issues turn into longer-term, more serious problems that can have a big impact on our overall wellbeing. Women, in particular, as their bones are smaller with a thinner cortex and smaller diameter, are more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis after the age of 70, which can have crippling effects,” Keeley explained.
And Professor Erdem Yesilada, from Yeditepe University, at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Istanbul, Turkey, who is also Consultant to AlchemLife, went on: “Musculoskeletal conditions, or joint and bone diseases, are among common health problems in women and men. Arthritis is an umbrella terms that encompasses nearly 200 different arthritic conditions, which are a group of chronic, painful and debilitating diseases.
“Worldwide, musculoskeletal disorders represent a global threat to healthy ageing and are ranked as the second most common cause of disability. The most common risk factors are increased age, obesity, endocrine hormone imbalance and sedentary lifestyle.”
The need for nutrients
We need certain nutrients to keep this part of the body working and healthy, and some of the important ones can be lacking in the diet.
Keeley advised: “Food plays a key role in the health of our joints, not in the least because our body weight is also a major factor, so eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is a great place to start. Abundant in most western diets, calcium is important for keeping the bones strong, but magnesium should also be considered in order to help the body utilise this essential calcium, so foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds and even dark chocolate should be included in the diet.
“Vitamin C-rich foods should also form part of a daily diet to support bone and joint health, as this nutrient helps the body to make collagen, which forms cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Some research also suggests that excessive sugar consumption can contribute to conditions such as osteoporosis, as it accelerates the decline in bone mass as we age.”
And Professor Yesilada added: “Since inflammation is the main factor involved, food rich in phytochemicals to reduce the effects of the triggered inflammatory cascade, such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, anthocyanins, and procyanidins, should be an important component of the daily diet.”
As well as a focus on the diet, supplements can be really useful to bridge any nutrient gaps. If you have specific concerns, seek the advice of a Nutritional Therapist, who can develop a holistic plan to address such issues.
In terms of the most beneficial supplements, Rachel explained: “With so many different products on the market, it can be confusing to know what supplements to take for the problem you may have. For all joint issues, ultimately, at the root of all of these joint issues, you will find inflammation. Therefore, in all instances, nutrients, herbs and spices that support inflammation will be indicated.
- Pure omega 3 fish oil is one of the most powerful supplements you can take to help support inflammation, as the majority of us are omega 6 fatty acid dominant, which fuels inflammation. Omega 3 fish oils help to swing the balance back to where it should be.
- For osteoarthritis (the wear and tear of our joints), collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, providing the building blocks for the structure and support of the connective tissues, which are vital for healthy joints. It is what holds the body together, like scaffolding, to provide structure and strength. As we age, the production of collagen within the body rapidly declines. Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and silicon all support a healthy joint matrix.
- For rheumatoid arthritis, a complex health issue involving the immune system as well as the joints, vitamin D is essential for a healthy and balanced immune system and in the UK, we are commonly low in vitamin D, especially in the winter months. Non-dairy Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis are beneficial bacteria that may support an optimal balance of bacteria in the gut.
- For sports injury/runner’s knee – in acute injury, inflammation is the strongest result as our bodies jump into action. Pain, swelling and reduced mobility are all often present. Natural eggshell membrane (NEM) is full of nourishment for rebuilding the joints, whilst also addressing inflammation. Serrapeptase is a proteolytic enzyme that provides natural support for inflammation, which also may help to relieve pain. And a combination of amino acids, minerals, MSM and horsetail provide many of the building blocks of collagen, which is part of the base of all cartilage, ligaments and even bone. This combination is especially useful if there is any ligament or tendon damage.
- For bone health, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, boron and other trace minerals all form part of the bone matrix. A healthy bone matrix is needed for healthy bones.”
And Keeley advised: “Magnesium is an essential nutrient to consider, as it stimulates the activity of cells that are critical to bone formation. In fact, magnesium-deficient bones can often become more brittle and susceptible to fractures. Often hailed a ‘magic mineral’, magnesium influences the types of cells the body requires for bone growth and repair, such as osteoclasts and osteoblasts. It also assists with activating vitamin D in order for us to absorb and utilise calcium
“Other important nutrients that often require supplementation, as they can be difficult to obtain adequate levels from diet and lifestyle alone, are vitamins D3 and K2. The two work together to ensure that calcium is directed out of the arteries and into the bones, and a lack of these nutrients can cause calcification within the arteries. When it comes to natural remedies, turmeric is often used as a therapeutic treatment of inflammatory conditions relating to the joints, due to its potent curcumin content. Taking a turmeric supplement which bypasses the digestive system will help to elevate your levels of the nutrient effectively.”
And Professor Yesilada suggested boswellia resin, also known as boswellia serrata, adding: “Zingiber and turmeric rhizome extract are the other effective components of such herbal supplements. It has been scientifically proven that their specially prepared extracts act on different endogenous lipids or proteins in the body regulating the homeostasis.”
And remember that simple changes to how you live your life can also support healthy joints and bones are we get older.
Keeley suggested: “Starting with everyday factors, it’s important to have a good quality, supportive mattress that takes care of the joints whilst you sleep. Also keep in mind potential strain that could be caused from lifting or carrying – especially heavy handbags that are carried on one shoulder. Smoking can also contribute to poor joint health, as nicotine constricts the tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the joints, as well as discs in the spine, so if you’re serious about the health of your joints, the time to quit smoking is now.
“One of the most common ‘problems’ where our joints and bones are concerned is actually a modern lifestyle factor and (luckily) is one that can be rectified – sitting still for too long. Anyone who has ever had a ‘desk job’ will know that it requires sedentary working, sitting still for a large portion of the day. These long stretches of time can cause slow blood flow to the joints and can also contribute to obesity, which is another factor to bear in mind when it comes to the health of our joints and bones. As non-use of the joints sends the wrong signal to the body, stemming nutrient flow to that area, it’s essential to try and take regular movement breaks during the working day and, where possible, make time for daily exercise.
“Of course, keeping fit as we age can also help to avoid stiffness and loss of range-of-movement. However, keep in mind that repetitive activity can do more harm than good, so aim to mix up your workouts to include walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, cycling, stretching etc. Rest is also essential for aggravated or swollen joints, in order to avoid long-term problems.”