Read an Excerpt
The Arthritis Cure, Revised Edition
The Medical Miracle that Can Halt, Reverse, and May Even Cure Osteoarthritis
By Jason Theodosakis, Sheila Buff
St. Martins PressCopyright © 2004 Jason Theodosakis, M.D.
All rights reserved.
CAN OSTEOARTHRITIS BE CURED?
What is osteoarthritis? Why is cartilage the focal point of the disease? What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis and which joints are affected? What causes osteoarthritis? Who is affected by osteoarthritis? What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? How is osteoarthritis diagnosed? What substances are being used to cure osteoarthritis?
It starts with a little stiffness in your right knee. Nothing to worry about. Then you notice that the pain is getting worse, that you sometimes have trouble walking and jogging really hurts. Or perhaps there's a bit of "morning stiffness" in your hip, and it's a chore to go up and down the stairs. Something has to be done about this — you've got a life to live! You visit your doctor.
The examination is routine, hardly more than a bit of probing. As you lie on the examination table in a paper dressing gown, the doctor moves your leg up and down and from side to side. "Does it hurt when I move your leg this way?" she asks. When you nod, she says, "Hmm. I'd like to order an X ray."
The X ray shows an uneven narrowing of the joint space between the bones of your right knee. Frowning as she studies the X ray, the doctor pronounces the diagnosis: "You have osteoarthritis. You know, 'wear and tear' arthritis. Osteoarthritis really starts ten to twenty years before you notice the first symptoms."
"Why didn't you tell me twenty years ago about this so I could have stopped playing tennis on those hard courts and weekend football with my friends? What should I do now?" you ask anxiously.
"Take aspirin or ibuprofen for the pain," she answers reassuringly. "And don't overexercise the knee."
"But how did I get it?"
"Osteoarthritis is practically inevitable," your doctor replies. "Almost everyone your age has it. The problem is the cartilage, which protects the ends of the bones. It's wearing away, and without that cartilage to keep your bones apart, they're grinding together, causing the pain and stiffness. That's essentially all there is to osteoarthritis. We can take care of the pain, up to a point, but unfortunately, there's nothing else we can do about it."
The Number-One Cause of Disability and Chronic Pain
Arthritis causes symptoms and problems in nearly 70 million Americans, or about one in every three adults. As the population ages and develops more obesity, diabetes, and joint injuries, this number will only increase. Right now, about 60 percent of Americans over age 65, or some 21 million people, have arthritis. That number is expected to double over the next few decades — by 2030, the number of older adults in the U.S. with arthritis or chronic joint pain will top 41 million.
Arthritis doesn't just cause minor discomfort — it's the leading cause of disability among U.S. adults. In fact, arthritis accounts for some 17 percent of all disability nationwide. That's well ahead of heart disease, which is about 11 percent of all disability. Arthritis now limits everyday activities for more than 7 million Americans; by 2020, this number will increase to perhaps 12 million as the population ages.
Disability from arthritis creates huge costs for those affected, their families, and the nation's economy. Each year, arthritis results in about $15 billion of direct medical costs for 44 million outpatient visits and 750,000 hospitalizations. The estimated total cost to society, including lost work productivity, is about $83 billion every year.
Arthritis is not one disease, but a group of diseases whose common threads are that they cause pain, inflammation, limited movement, and destruction of the joints. Three out of five arthritis sufferers are under age 65 — arthritis is not a disease just of the elderly.
Though there are more than a hundred diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system, the most common form by far is osteoarthritis. In fact, osteoarthritis is more common than all other forms of arthritis combined. Because osteoarthritis is one of the forms of arthritis that becomes more common as we age, many people just assume it's a normal part of aging, that pain in the joints is like gray hair or wrinkles, something we should expect. But in fact, osteoarthritis usually starts in middle age or even earlier, often many years before a person first notices symptoms.
In a joint afflicted with osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers and cushions the ends of the bones degenerates, allowing bones to rub together. In addition, bone spurs and cysts may develop and the structures around the joint, such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles, may become strained, inflamed, and painful. The major symptom of osteoarthritis is pain; inflammation (swelling, redness, and warmth in the area) is usually a problem only later in the course of the disease. Often, however, osteoarthritis can occur without pain — the main symptom is that the affected joints become stiff and less flexible. Some people don't notice this loss of range of motion, because it tends to occur very gradually. For instance, you may not be able to turn your head to the side as easily as you could in the past while trying to back up your car. Even if you don't have any neck pain, this could be a sign of osteoarthritis in the upper spine.
Up until recently, doctors in the United States thought that osteoarthritis was incurable. That's why the commonly prescribed treatment is strictly palliative, designed only to relieve the pain without addressing the true causes of the disease or the condition of the joints. For mild cases, doctors prescribe painkillers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®). Steroid injections such as cortisone and opiates (narcotics) are reserved for the more resistant cases. Unfortunately, the painkillers and anti-inflammatories have problems. They temporarily relieve pain, but in the long run they simply cover up the symptoms while the disease progresses further. These drugs have side effects that range from the annoying to the downright dangerous — each year, thousands of people die from the adverse effects of anti-inflammatories, acetaminophen, and steroids. To add insult to injury, recent research suggests that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, including the new COX-2 inhibitors (such as Vioxx®, Celebrex®, and Bextra®), may actually cause certain features of osteoarthritis to progress faster. In addition, these new drugs can have other potentially serious side effects (see chapter 7 for more on this).
So, after years of masking your pain with drugs while your disease becomes progressively more severe, you may have to call in a surgeon to replace your hips or knees with artificial ones. Even with the new joint, however, you don't have as much function as you did before your arthritis developed. Surgery is painful, expensive, and not permanent — in ten years or so the replacement will probably begin to fail and the operation will probably have to be redone. And every time you have surgery, there's always the risk of dying or becoming permanently disabled from complications. But as the doctor said, there's nothing else to be done for osteoarthritis. Or is there?
A New Approach Emerges
Instead of simply dulling arthritis pain with drugs or performing expensive and potentially dangerous surgery, many doctors today are actually curing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. How? With three safe, inexpensive, readily available dietary supplements: glucosamine, chondroitin, and a newly available supplement called ASU. These three supplements can be purchased without a prescription in almost any drug store or health-food store in America. The facts about this revolutionary but simple approach to solving a widespread problem are amazing:
Since they are substances we already consume, and also produce in very small quantities in our bodies, glucosamine and chondroitin have no known significant side effects. This amazing fact stands in stark contrast to painkillers such as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and cortisone injections, which can wreak havoc on the body.
ASU, made from highly purified and concentrated fractions of avocado and soybean oil, is also safe and extremely well-tolerated. It has been used in France as a mainstay treatment for osteoarthritis for a number of years, with excellent results. Like glucosamine/chondroitin, ASU is now known to be the third, disease-improving treatment for osteoarthritis.
An extensive body of clinical research — decades' worth — proves that glucosamine/chondroitin and ASU work in both humans and animals.
Although these safe and effective therapies have long been used by physicians in Europe and elsewhere, they have been largely overlooked by the American medical community. Fortunately, this is starting to change. We are now on the brink of a revolutionary improvement in the treatment of osteoarthritis and a revolutionary change in the way people think about this disease.
The problem and its solution can be neatly summed up: Millions of Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a painful and debilitating disease. Millions more are developing osteoarthritis now but do not yet have any symptoms. Osteoarthritis, the number-one cause of chronic pain, is one of the most widespread diseases in Western society. Although most physicians consider it to be incurable, osteoarthritis can actually be stopped in its tracks by using glucosamine/chondroitin and ASU. (These amazing natural substances may also be effective against other musculoskeletal conditions.) This astonishing information is well known and widely accepted in many other countries across the globe. The original edition of The Arthritis Cure brought the good news about glucosamine and chondroitin to the United States in 1997 and over 60 countries thereafter. Since then, these supplements have been widely accepted by most physicians, but some others still aren't convinced. They're concerned about accepting medical advances that come from abroad.
After all, we have a wonderful medical system. If something is that good, shouldn't American doctors have thought of it first? Shouldn't they at least know about it? And what about quality control and scientific studies? Aren't they less rigorous outside the United States? American doctors may not like to admit it, but physicians in other countries are often ahead of us in many areas of medicine. The first heart transplant was performed in South Africa; the first "test tube" baby was born in England; France was a forerunner in the development of the AIDS drug AZT. Angioplasty (using a balloon to open clogged arteries) and coronary stents (devices used to hold the artery open after an angioplasty) originated in Europe and are more advanced there than they are in the United States. Medications in Europe are rigorously tested and regulated, just as they are here. In fact, many drugs widely used in the United States and two-thirds of drugs overall, such as omeprazole (Prilosec®), were developed overseas.
We certainly have a good medical system, but it has traditionally been slow to accept new therapies or ideas. This is partially due to the federal Food and Drug Administration's decidedly unfriendly attitude toward the use of vitamins and other supplements for anything other than assuring that you meet your recommended daily nutritional requirements. And it's partially due to a relative lack of solid research into alternatives here in the United States. Indeed, a fair amount of the best scientific research on alternative approaches has been conducted in Germany and other European countries. The studies haven't all been translated into English, so they're not widely read by physicians here in the United States. Still, it's quite surprising that treatments used so successfully overseas for such a widespread and debilitating ailment have gone largely unnoticed in this country. Fortunately, that has started to change.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
The literal Greek translation of the word osteoarthritis is osteo (of the bone), arthro (joint), and itis (inflammation). But "bone/joint inflammation" may not be the most accurate description of osteoarthritis, since joint pain rather than inflammation is its most important characteristic. Indeed, while inflammation is a characteristic of many forms of arthritis, it is not found in most cases of osteoarthritis. This may be why some physicians feel that we should call the problem arthrosis, which means "degenerative joint disease."
Osteoarthritis is just one of many forms of joint disease. It is, however, the most common form of arthritis, affecting the articular cartilage, the smooth, glistening, bluish-white substance attached to ends of the bones. (Have you ever looked at or touched the end of a chicken drumstick? That's articular cartilage.) In fact, articular cartilage is one of the smoothest substances known. In addition to the articular cartilage, osteoarthritis, called OA for short, affects several other areas in and around the joints. These include:
the subchondral bone (the ends of the bones, where the cartilage is attached)
the capsules that surround the joints
the muscles adjacent to the joint
The pain of osteoarthritis comes not just from the damaged articular cartilage but from the rest of the joint and the area around it. That's why exercise to strengthen the muscles supporting the joint is a part of the arthritis cure (see chapter 8 for more about this).
Cartilage: The Focal Point of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis begins in the cartilage, the rubbery, gel-like tissue found at the ends of bones. About 65 to 80 percent water, cartilage is designed to do two things: reduce the friction caused by one bone rubbing against another, and blunt the constant trauma inflicted on bones during everyday life.
Think of healthy cartilage as being something like a sponge between the hard ends of the bones. This spongy material soaks up liquid (specifically, synovial fluid, the fluid found naturally in your joints) when the joint is at rest. When you move the joint and put pressure on it, the liquid is squeezed out again. For example, every time you take a step, your leg supports the pressure of your body weight. With each step, the cartilage in your knee joint is squeezed, forcing much of the synovial fluid out of it. But then when you pick up your foot to take another step, the fluid rushes back into the cartilage. The fluid "squishes" in and out as the cartilage responds to the constantly changing force exerted on the joint. Unlike a sponge, however, healthy cartilage does not flatten so easily. Filled with negatively charged chondroitin molecules that repel one another, increasing weight on the cartilage causes an increase in the repelling force. This is the same thing that happens when you try to push two magnets together that are trying to repel each other. It gets harder and harder to keep the magnets together the closer they are in proximity to each other.
Over time, unfortunately, osteoarthritis can cause the loss of the chondroitin molecules and other cartilage components, eroding this protective buffer between the bones. As you'll learn in chapter 2, the problem has been growing in the cartilage matrix, the "birthplace" of cartilage, long before any symptoms are felt. As the disease progresses, the cartilage begins to soften and crack. The magnetic repelling effect is diminished and the cartilage cells die. In advanced cases, bone spurs (osteophytes), abnormal bone hardening (sclerosis or eburnation), and fluid-filled pockets in the bone (subchondral cysts) can form. And, of course, the more the cartilage wears away, the more the bones rub together, creating greater amounts of pain, bone deformities, and eventually inflammation. In severe cases the cartilage may disappear altogether, leaving the bone ends completely exposed in some places.
Excerpted from The Arthritis Cure, Revised Edition by Jason Theodosakis, Sheila Buff. Copyright © 2004 Jason Theodosakis, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martins Press.
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