Do you suffer from joint pain or back ache? If it’s any consolation you’re not alone. Conditions such as back pain, arm or neck pain and joint problems are classed as musculoskeletal disorders and account for around seven million lost working days annually in the United Kingdom alone.
Musculoskeletal disorders can affect muscles, joints and tendons in all parts of the body and it is not just ageing that is to blame – factors such as activity levels, posture, diet and occupation can all play a role.
During winter, pain and stiffness can often feel worse, making you less active than you would like. To support flexible joints, the essential mineral – sulphur – may be beneficial. Sulphur is an important element for all cells and body tissues, and while it is found naturally in many foodstuffs including eggs, lentils, beans, onions, garlic, fish and meat, levels can be diminished through storing, food processing methods and cooking.
Glucosamine is found naturally in the body. It supports tendons and ligaments, as well as the lubricating synovial fluid which acts as a shock absorber, cushioning the joints by preventing bone from grinding against bone which can lead to pain and inflammation. Unfortunately, loss of this protective cushioning can be caused by excessive stress on joints, through sport or heavy lifting, as well as by the natural wear and tear of ageing.
Muscle and joint pain can result from inflammation, so eat plenty of foods containing omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be beneficial in reducing inflammation. These foods include oily fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. Try adding a handful of seeds to yoghurt or cereal in the morning and regularly include oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines in your diet. High fat meats, trans-fats found in some processed foods, refined and sugary foods are pro-inflammatory and should be avoided.
Collagen, the main component of connective tissue, is the most abundant protein in the body. It provides structural stability and strength to tendons and cartilage, helping to form the shiny ‘cushions’ at joint ends, enabling joints to move freely and comfortably. However, as we age, our body tends to produce less or lower quality collagen leading to reduced joint mobility.
Proanthocyanidins are a class of plant flavonoids that offer important antioxidant activity to quench damaging free radicals. They are thought to play a role in maintaining a healthy collagen structure, supporting blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are particularly rich sources of these health promoting plant compounds, so include plenty of blueberries, blackberries, red and purple grapes (those with seeds have extra proanthocyanidins) in your diet. Additionally, proanthocyanidin-rich foods include cranberries, plums, blackcurrants, bilberries, hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds and even kidney beans. Other beneficial anti-inflammatory herbs and spices include cinnamon, curcumin (the pigment found in the spice turmeric), ginger, garlic, cayenne and the herb devil’s claw. Devil’s claw has traditionally been used for backache, rheumatic pain and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints.
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