Do you take your joint mobility for granted? If all your joints move freely, without pain, you truly have a lot to be thankful for.
The frequency of joint problems and cartilage damage has increased in the past few years and affects people from all age groups. When people have joint problems and damaged cartilage, they often have a hard time doing the simplest tasks such as walking across the room or typing on a computer.
What advances cartilage damage and joint problems as we age? You might answer that it’s likely due to natural wear and tear, aging, or excessive exercising. Yes, but could it be possible that suboptimal nutrition underlies all of these factors? The real question to ask is what can you do to naturally maintain healthy joints and cartilage? In this article, we will show you 6 healthy habits you can start implementing today to support your cartilage and joints’ health.
Before we dive into those 5 simple yet powerful habits for cartilage and joint health, let’s take a look at what cartilage is and how it affects your joints' health.
As we move our joints, what keeps our bones from rubbing against each other? Thank goodness for cartilage! Cartilage is a white, flexible connective tissue that lines the articulating surfaces of joints and acts as a shock-absorbing cushion to protect joints. It contains a combination of special types of proteins capable of bearing a tremendous amount of pressure. These tough and flexible tissues are also present in other areas of our bodies like our nose and outer ear.
When cartilage is thinned or lost due to wear and tear, injury, or poor nutrition, you have bone on bone grinding on themselves causing inflammation and joint pain. Experiencing such discomfort can make the quality of life less enjoyable, but don’t worry, all hope is not lost. The good news is that adopting the following healthy habits can be a dramatic help to support healthy cartilage and joints as you age.
It is interesting to note that limb (and joint) regeneration is able to naturally occur in certain animals such as salamanders. For example, if a salamander’s leg is accidentally cut off, the salamander has the ability to re-grow its entire leg including the joint. Specialized molecules called microRNAs are able to regulate this regenerative process in animals. Since our bodies also contain microRNAs, we need to learn how we can turn on these regulators to help us rebuild our own damaged joints.
Joint regeneration is a field of amazing new research – but we still need to do more research with humans. In the meantime, what methods can help slow joint destruction and help our body’s ability to restore joint cartilage?
1. Hydrate your body for better joint health
Did you know 60% of your body is made up of water? Cartilage is not different from the rest of your body; it also contains 60-80% water and the rest is several types of special proteins. In addition, your body contains synovial fluid in the capsules of joints, which lubricates and reduces friction between the bones and cartilage. A hydrated body will synthesize the synovial fluid for better lubrication and less friction.
This shows us how much the human body depends on daily hydration to function properly and support overall health. Although we realize drinking plenty of water daily does wonders for the body, sometimes we forget to do it. We get too busy at work, school, or home and forget the little things that take care of our bodies. A good way to ensure you drink plenty of water daily is to add it to your daily “to-do” list and eventually, it will become a habit that helps sustain your cartilage and joint health. Plus, nothing tastes better than a refreshing glass of water on a hot summer day.
2. Kick out the “Bad” Guys; Bring in the “Good” Guys
Inflammation is commonly present when there is joint damage and destruction of joint cartilage. What is one of the most common causes of joint inflammation? Consuming an imbalanced ratio of omega fatty acids. Be careful of eating a diet with too many omega-6 fatty acids in relation to omega-3s. Too many omega-6 fatty acids inevitably create inflammation, while omega-3s tend to be anti-inflammatory. Although both types of fatty acids are needed in our diets, they need to be in the proper balance. Research suggests that a ratio of 2:1 (omega 6s to omega 3s) is an ideal ratio to aim for. For many Americans, their omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is 20:1 or higher! This is totally unacceptable. High omega 6s will ultimately lead right down the path to inflammation and pain.
When we eat too much omega-6 fatty acids (in relationship to omega 3s), it can lead to inflammation not only in the joints, but in the entire body. One of the key culprits are vegetable oils (such as soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil) – which are a prime source of unwanted omega-6s. Kick these toxic oils right out of your diet. Start reading labels and you will be surprised how often these “cheap” oils are on the ingredients list. To fix this imbalance, start by limiting (or eliminating) your consumption of vegetable oils and any foods that contain them.
Another culprit that yields far too much omega 6 is eating chicken. Since commercial chickens have been typically fed a diet high in grain, their meat will automatically be high in omega 6s. Instead of consuming chicken and food with vegetable oils, switch to a whole foods diet without any oils (which are really just a refined food) or only consume small amounts of quality olive oil (if desired). Also include the much-needed omega-3-rich foods in your diet such as fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines).
It’s also a good idea to include some grass-fed, grass-finished red meat in your diet. Research shows that one serving of grass-fed top sirloin beef has about 65 mg of omega-3 fats, about 50% more than grain-fed cattle. Numerous recent studies have shown that eating red meat in your diet is quite healthful – unlike what we’ve been told in the past.
Large population studies have shown that a high dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
In addition to well-raised red meat, another one of our favorite omega-3 sources is sardines. They are inexpensive, have low levels of heavy metals like mercury, and are loaded with omega 3s. Eating just a can or two a week can make a big difference in inflamed joint cartilage.
Dark, leafy green vegetables are rich in nutrients that support joint health, these nutrients include beta-carotene, antioxidants, and vitamin C. There are many great benefits to eating green leafy vegetables including hydration, stool softening, weight loss, bone strengthening, and more.
3. Move Those Joints!
Another natural approach to maintaining your cartilage and joint health is staying active. Physical activity is crucial for your overall physical and mental health. More importantly, regularly exercising plays a vital role in keeping your joints and cartilage happy and healthy by replenishing lubrication to the cartilage and reducing stiffness and pain.
Cartilage does not have a direct blood supply like other living tissues. It receives its nutrients and is able to remove waste products by the action of the synovial fluid within the joint capsule. That’s why it’s important to move every joint in the body through its complete range of motion every day. These exercises help the synovial fluid in the joint exchange its fluid over the entire joint surface.
Regular exercise that doesn’t compress the joint cartilage which is essential for joint health. Exercise also improves overall circulation and joint mobility. It also helps decrease inflammation throughout the body.
Some of the best exercises for joint restoration include walking (hiking), swimming, stretching, and weightlifting (with moderate amounts of weight). Weightlifting is able to strengthen the muscle ligaments so that joints are more stable. It can also increase overall mobility and even increase the density of bones.
You can also try walking or hiking 5 times a week to build a habit that can certainly help sustain your cartilage and joint health. Plus, walking improves your overall feeling of wellbeing and nutrition.
However, if you are an active individual, be kind to your joints and cartilage. Once they are damaged, it is hard to get them back.
4. Taking warm baths
Warm baths can increase blood flow which increases flexibility and mobility by improving joint range motion. If you don’t have time to take warm baths every day, you can use heating pads to achieve the same result. Another cool trick your joints and cartilage will appreciate is hot and cold therapy. Alternating between hot water and cold water during your shower time can be beneficial to your joints and cartilage, it increases circulation and reduces inflammation. Consider adding hot and cold therapy to your daily routine, your joints will thank you in the long haul.
5. Stop any further damage
When we’re younger, high-impact activities such as jogging, playing basketball (jumping), and other impact sports may feel fine because our joints are more flexible. But as we age, high-impact activities can place too much stress on joints and cartilage, increasing cartilage thinning and creating potential joint damage. If you are 30 pounds or more overweight, this extra weight places unwanted continual stress on the joints, even when you are doing simple tasks such as walking. To make a huge difference in joint pain and cartilage production, losing even a few pounds of excess weight is highly significant.
6. Add Some Awesome Joint Nutrients to Your Diet
Alongside the other healthy habits we mentioned, following a healthy diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals, you can add joint-friendly nutritional supplements to your diet to protect your joints and cartilage. Nutrients for joint health (such as white willow, alfalfa, reishi, Andrographis, and hyaluronic acid) are stellar ingredients that help reduce inflammation of the cartilage in joints while providing nourishing nutrients for healthier, stronger joints.
Today many factors can affect your bones, cartilage, and joint health including injuries, excessive exercise. However, one of the main factors that affect bones and joints health is aging. As we age, our joints experience natural wear and tear, but building healthy habits into our lifestyle can help slow down the process. You will be surprised how proper daily hydration, eating more vegetables, doing hot and cold therapy and regular exercising can support your cartilage and joint health. Remember a balanced diet plus quality supplements can sustain bone, cartilage and joint health long term and improve your overall quality of life.