Twenty percent of baby boomers are managing arthritis and 28 percent suffer from some sort of joint pain or stiffness, according to a 2005 healthy aging survey conducted by The Natural Marketing Institute, based in Harleysville, Pa. With such numbers, you can expect to hear more questions from people in their 50s and 60s hoping to prevent arthritis or treat its symptoms. A growing amount of research is pointing toward an anti-inflammatory diet as a powerful preventive measure against osteoarthritis. Educating your customers about this kind of diet will have them gliding—instead of limping—through your aisles.
"We are beginning to have science that says if you begin an anti-inflammatory diet, then that oftentimes helps to modify the disease process, decreasing pain and the amount of pain medication you have to use," says Dr. Tanya Edwards, medical director for integrative medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
An anti-inflammatory diet can help treat osteoarthritis by reducing the number of free radicals in the body, Edwards explains. Free radicals are naturally occurring, but an excess amount can lead to inflammation of the cartilage cells in the body's joints, which damages and wears down the cartilage, causing the stiffness and pain of osteoarthritis. The antioxidants and essential fatty acids that form the core of an anti-inflammatory diet, on the other hand, can help reduce the number of harmful free radicals in the body.
Foods to avoid
"The pro-inflammatory things in our diet are generally the saturated fats predominantly seen in animal products," Edwards says. "What I would suggest to [osteoarthritis] patients is to stick as much as possible to a pescatarian diet and to avoid meat." People with arthritis should also avoid high-fat dairy products. And trans fats—chemically altered fat found in many prepackaged foods—are even worse. "We have found that these trans fats are even more detrimental in terms of increasing pro-inflammatory processes," Edwards says.
The nightshade family—foods like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant—may also worsen arthritis symptoms. "There are some folks that are genetically predisposed to having a reaction to the nightshade family," says Dean Neary, N.D., chairman of the physical medicine department in the school of naturopathic medicine at Seattle's Bastyr University. "Some folks will do very well if they eliminate the nightshade family. It's a no-brainer to try it and see if symptoms improve."
Foods to seek out
One word: fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, herring and sardines are powerful anti-inflammatories, though Edwards cautions against eating some fish, like tuna, that may contain high levels of mercury and thus carry their own health risks. Flaxseed also contains helpful omega-3s, but Edwards says fish is ultimately a better source.
In addition to amping up the presence of cold-water fish in their diets, arthritic baby boomers should also include nuts, seeds and beans—sources of protein that are high in healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. And if consumers still crave meat, Neary suggests free-range chicken and beef, which have higher percentages of polyunsaturated fat than conventional meat.
Other powerful anti-inflammatory dietary additions are fruits and vegetables containing high amounts of antioxidants, like dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, peppers and broccoli. "The anti-inflammatory chemicals are most often found in the pigment," says Edwards. So the more brilliant the color, the more antioxidants there are. She says this is also a reason organic fruits and vegetables are healthier than conventional ones. "Antioxidants are the plant's protective mechanism against pests. If you are spraying your crops, then after a few generations, production of these antioxidants decreases because there aren't any pests, whereas crops fighting off pests tend to make the most antioxidants."
So how to steer hobbling customers—or those worried about potential hobbling—toward your produce and fish section? Baby boomers are a proactive bunch who actively seek out information backed by science, says Steve French, executive vice president of The Natural Marketing Institute, so the best way to educate them about arthritis is to prepare your staff for their inevitable questions. "The role of in-store personnel is vital," he says. "Train them and educate them."
O'rya Hyde-Keller is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.
Are customers telling you they feel creaky in the morning? Are they having trouble with increased soreness or joints that don't feel as flexible as they once were? Most likely, these are signs of arthritis, an affliction that affects an estimated one in three adult Americans—and about twice as many women as men. Additionally, according to the Arthritis Foundation, half of those afflicted don't think there is anything that can be done to help them. But as is the case with many age-associated problems, arthritis is not necessarily an inevitable part of growing old. There are several tried, true and natural methods available to help stave off this often life-altering condition that you can recommend to your older customers.
Arthritis exists in two primary forms: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The former condition is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body attacks its own cells, resulting in joint deterioration and inflammation. That's where the joint pain and soreness comes from. The latter condition is caused by the simple wear and tear that comes with age?but can also be attributed in part to poor diet and lack of exercise.
BioAstin Natural Astaxanthin, a dietary supplement with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, has been shown in a number of studies to be effective in battling not only rheumatoid arthritis, but also carpal tunnel syndrome and joint and muscle soreness after exercise.
"[BioAstin] is an anti-inflammatory that works very differently from most other anti-inflammatories," says Bob Capelli, vice president of sales at Cyanotech, the Kailua-Kona, Hawaii-based manufacturer of BioAstin. "The classic Vioxx or Celebrex prescription anti-inflammatories only combat the Cox-2 enzyme (cyclooxygenase 2) in a very, very intense way. With BioAstin, what you're doing is, rather than concentrating on one thing, you're fighting a whole host of causative factors in a much gentler fashion."
Natural anti-inflammatories may not work as quickly as the pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories Capelli mentions, but he says they are safer. "Most people don't see effects until two weeks, sometimes as much as three or four weeks."
Another supplement that can be taken in response to the onset of arthritis is one containing glucosamine hydrochlorate and chondroitin sulfate. Glucosamine is a form of amino sugar that is believed to play a role in cartilage formation and repair. Chondroitin sulfate is part of a large protein molecule (proteoglycan) that gives cartilage elasticity. These ingredients are generally extracted from animal tissue to manufacture dietary supplements.
"When glucosamine is absorbed into the body, it makes its way to the joints and cartilage cells and helps the body to repair some of the damage," says David Moore, vice president of the consumer products division at NutraMax Laboratories, the maker of CosaminDS, a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement. "Chondroitin is more of a protector against inflammatory mediators and enzymes that destroy cartilage cells. It can slow the progression of the disease."
One recent study conducted at the University of Liege in Belgium over three years showed that patients with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis who took 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine had 20 percent to 25 percent less pain and disability than those taking a placebo. Researchers also found glucosamine slowed, if not stopped, the progression of the disease and reduced cartilage loss. The results of the study were presented at the American College of Rheumatology's Annual Scientific Meeting in November 1999.
Glucosamine and chondroitin were first touted by Dr. Jason Theodosakis, in his book The Arthritis Cure (St. Martin's Griffin, 1997), and in a series of articles published in the mid-'90s in The New York Times.
"Between the [book and articles], they really launched the category," Moore says. "Physicians, pharmacists and patients became aware of the benefits that glucosamine and chondroitin could have for joint health. They could see that it was a safe, effective alternative to the more traditional treatments. But when we started attending medical conferences and places like that, not a lot of physicians understood where it fit into their treatments. But now, 10 years later, we've come a long way. Now, 90 percent of doctors recommend it to treat arthritis. Physicians are now thinking of this as conventional rather than alternative."
While supplements can have lasting benefits for arthritis sufferers, simple lifestyle changes can also help. "[There isn't a] cure-all, end-all ingredient," Capelli says. "I tell people that they should be supplementing with other antioxidants, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and getting their fish oils. BioAstin can really help with symptom-specific issues—rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, other arthritis, recovery from exercise—but supplementing that with a good multivitamin is an important health measure, as well."
Tyler Wilcox is a freelance writer in Longmont, Colo.
"Physicians are now thinking of [glucosamine] as conventional."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 62, 72