April 24, 2008

7 Min Read
Natural remedies ease joint pain

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.

"Physicians are now thinking of [glucosamine] as conventional."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 62, 72

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