Is it true that some supplements may ease arthritis pain?
According to Barbara Lohse Knous, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist, while arthritis sufferers are encouraged to work with health-care professionals in managing the disease, some dietary supplements can ease the symptoms and complement prescribed health-care measures.
One supplement -- glucosamine -- is thought to be particularly helpful for many who suffer from osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of the illness.
"Clinical trials with glucosamine show subjective improvement. Glucosamine, which is naturally found in almost all tissue, is a building block of cartilage. When used as a supplement, it stimulates cartilage cells to produce glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans that are important to building cartilage," Knous said.
She says, "While it is too soon to know the effects of long-term use, researchers do know that using glucosamine can ease joint pain."
However, using a supplement without first discussing it with a health-care professional who is managing disease is not advisable. Glucosamine is made from shellfish and not recommended for people allergic to seafood. People with diabetes also are cautioned about glucosamine. Animal research shows that it may worsen insulin resistance.
Chondroitin, another supplement that is available, is a major component of cartilage. It can inhibit the enzymes that break down cartilage. The supplement, which is derived from a cow's tracheal cartilage, can cause bleeding in patients who are taking blood-thinning medications. There also is some concern about chondroitin's affect on atherosclerosis.
People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis can benefit from fish and plant oils containing fats that decrease inflammation. Examples include black current or evening primrose oil.
Treatments drawn from folk medicine and other cultures also can be beneficial. Research trials using extracts from the Chinese Thunder God Vine, for example, suggest that the supplement yielded an 80 percent improvement, said Knous who explained that it has been used successfully in China for centuries.
Evaluating supplements on a case-by-case basis is imperative, Knous said. View new products with caution and learn as much as you can about them.
And remember, nutritional supplements should complement a healthy diet, and not be considered a replacement for eating a variety of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables.
Does exercise help or worsen arthritis pain?
Nancy Gyurcsik, a physical activity specialist with Kansas State University's Office of Community Health, said there's a terrible myth that exercise worsens arthritis pain.
Physical activity is one of the recognized ways to treat arthritis. In addition to reducing pain, exercise improves physical functioning, and decreases levels of depression and social isolation. For some people, exercising with a partner is their social time. Overall, people's quality of life increases if they exercise.
When people with arthritis exercise, they should expect some stiffness initially, but that's natural for anyone who begins an exercise program. One of the key things for people is to stick with the exercise program for at least six months. That's a key goal to have because most who make it that long are able to stick with that exercise program during their lifetime.
The number of suggested activities is as varied as one's interests, Gyurcsik said. Some people like to jog, walk or swim; others prefer to lift weights or ride bicycles. But even such "leisure-time activity" as doing yard work or walking around the mall contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people exercise at least five times a week for 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity at a moderate intensity. Physical activity can be cumulative, meaning that exercising in "pieces" of 10 minutes or more -- for a total of 30 minutes per day -- can help a person achieve the same health benefit as one session of 30 minutes.
To help understand what moderate exercise is, Gyurcsik said people need to be breathing hard, but still pass the talk test. If you can't carry on a conversation while exercising, then you're working too hard.
May is National Arthritis Month. In Kansas, 34 percent of the state's population have reported having arthritis, defined as chronic joint symptoms or doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
For more information on arthritis, contact the Kansas Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation at (800) 362-1108 or go to www.arthritis.org/ on the Web.
-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.