Exciting developments are occurring in the field of arthritis research. In many cases, even among people who are genetically predisposed to arthritis, unless there also is an environmental or lifestyle trigger (being a smoker, for instance) to spur the onset of the disease, chances are good that arthritis will never develop.

What this means: Far from being an inevitable result of aging or an inescapable fate for those with a family history of the disease, arthritis is quite possibly preventable. and many of the same strategies that guard against the development of arthritis also help slow its progress, making the condition more manageable if you do get it.

What it is: Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 conditions that affect the joints. Osteoarthritis, which is by far the most common type, involves the deterioration of the cartilage that covers the ends of bones, leading to pain and loss of movement as bone rubs against bone. Among young adults, osteoarthritis most often is seen in men-but after age 45, Women sufferers outnumber men. Second-most common is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and inflames the synovium (membrane lining the joints). One of the most severe types of arthritis, it affects women twice as often as it does men.

What to do: Follow the steps below to help prevent various types of arthritis…

  • Reduce the weight load on your knees. The more you weigh, the more likely you are to get arthritis in the knees.

Helpful: Even if genes place you at increased risk, dropping your excess weight-or perhaps even as little as 10 to 12 pounds-makes your arthritis risk drop, too.

  • Guard against joint injury. People who have had any type of knee or shoulder injury are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint than people with no such history of injury.

Prudent: To help prevent neuromuscular injuries that can place added stress on joints, warm up for five minutes before you exercise or perform any strenuous activity (shoveling Snow, moving furniture)...and stretch afterward. Watch out for hazards that could lead to falls and bone fractures, such as icy sidewalks and cluttered floors.

  • Avoid repetitive motions. Some evidence suggests a link between osteoarthritis and activities that require repetitive use of specific joints, such as continuous typing or cashiering,

Self-defense: Vary your motions as much as possible. and take frequent breaks.

  • Minimize exposure to infection. Arthritis can develop after a person contracts certain infections, such as salmonella, erythema infectiosum ("fifth disease") or hepatitis B.

Theory: These infections trigger cellular damage, especially in people genetically predisposed to arthritis.

Precautions: Wash hands often.. avoid contact with people who have infections.

  • Stay away from cigarettes. Toxic chemicals in smoke appear to damage joint fibers-0 refrain from smoking and minimize your exposure to secondhand smoke.

To quit smoking: Visit www.smokefree.gov for referrals to quit lines and advice on how to stop smoking.

  • Exercise for 75 minutes or more each week. In a recent study, women in their 70s who exercised for at least an hour and 15 minutes weekly for three years reported significantly fewer joint problems than women who exercised less. Doubling that workout time was even more beneficial.

Good options: Walking, tai chi, yoga, swimming, weight lifting.

  • Eat the "Big Three" anti-arthritis antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize tissue-damaging molecules called free radicals. Some observational studies suggest that three in particular may guard against arthritis.

Findings: In a study of more than 25,000 people, researchers found that those who developed arthritis ate, on average, 20% less zeaxanthin and 40% less beta-cryptoxanthin than those who did not get arthritis. Both of these antioxidants are found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables (apricots, pineapple, peppers, winter squash)...zeaxanthin also is found in leafy green vegetables (arugula, chicory, kale, spinach). Another study of 400 people showed that those with the highest blood levels of lutein-also found in leafy greens-were 70% less likely to have knee arthritis than those with the lowest levels.

Sensible: Boost your intake of foods rich in these three important antioxidants.

  • Get the "Top Two" vitamins. In one study of 556 people, those with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D were three times more likely to have knee osteoarthritis than participants with the highest levels. A larger clinical study is in progress, so it is too early to make specific recommendations—but it probably is wise to include plenty of vitamin D-rich foods (such as fish and low- or nonfat dairy) in your diet.

Observational studies also suggest that vitamin C helps keep arthritis from progressing-perhaps by stimulating the production of collagen, cartilage and other connective tissues in the joints.

Healthful: Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers and sweet potatoes.

  • Do not neglect omega-3 fatty acids. These natural anti-inflammatories appear to reduce the risk of developing arthritis (especially rheumatoid) and to ease symptom severity in people who already have the disease.

Best: Ask your doctor about taking fish oil supplements that provide the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Interesting: You have an advantage if you were born, raised and currently live in the western part of the US.

Recent finding: Compared with women in the West, those in other areas of the country have a 37% to 45% higher risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

Possible influences: Regional differences in lifestyle, diet, environmental exposures and/ or genetic factors.

What to do: You can't necessarily change where you live, of course—but if your location suggests an increased risk for arthritis, you can be extra conscientious about following the self-defense strategies above.

Omega-3 Eases Some Alzheimer's Symptoms

Supplementing with 2.3 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids reduced agitation in Alzheimer's disease patients who carried the APOE gene (revealed by genetic testing)...and eased depression in patients without the gene.

Fight Hot Flashes with Supplements

In a study of 120 menopausal women, one I group took omega-3 fatty acid supplements three times daily for eight weeks, while another group took placebos.

Result: Among women who had hot flashes before the study began, those who took omega3 supplements had an average of 1.6 fewer hot flashes daily, compared with a decrease of 0.50 in the placebo group.

Theory: Omega-3s may play a role in regulating the interaction of brain chemicals that have been linked to hot flashes.

If you have hot flashes: Ask your doctor about trying an omega-3 supplement.

Ease Symptoms of Lupus

This chronic inflammatory disease can affect many body systems and organs.

Recent study: Lupus patients who took 3 grams of omega-3 fish oil supplements daily for 24 weeks showed significant improvement in lupus symptoms, such as fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes and mouth ulcers. Cardiovascular benefits: There also was an improvement in blood vessel function and a reduction in cell-damaging molecules.

Best: Patients with lupus should ask their doctors about daily supplementation with omega-3 fish oils.

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