October is when the world talks about raising awareness of Breast Cancer. But October is also a good time to talk about another debilitating disease: arthritis. World Arthritis Day, marked on October 12, is a global initiative that brings people together to raise awareness of this often silent condition.
Worldwide, more than 350 million people have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis. While there are no national UAE statistics, numbers from the Gulf region suggest that the prevalence is 20 percent of the population, or one in five. A study involving Emiratis attending Dubai Primary Health care centers has shown that lower back pain and knee osteoarthritis were the most common musculoskeletal diseases with a prevalence of 33 percent and 26 percent respectively.
The most common musculoskeletal conditions with the greatest impact on society are rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, spondyloarthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and gout. All of them cause pain in different ways. Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are the most common symptoms. Many people with arthritis often notice their symptoms are worse in the morning. These conditions are a leading cause of absence from work and reasons for disability pensions, accounting for 20 percent of health utilization costs. Moreover, the economic burden from direct costs has been calculated to be between 0.7-1.5 percent of the gross domestic product of most countries.
In simple terms, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. While there’s no definite cure, experts suggest implementing lifestyle changes along with the right kind of diet can reduce the damage to joints, ease inflammation and help relieve pain.
Exercise can help reduce joint pain and stiffness and increase flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness and endurance. After consulting with their doctor, patients can then embark on an exercise regime that includes:
- Range-of-motion exercises, such as dance to help maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness. This type of exercise helps maintain or increase flexibility.
- Strength exercises, such as weight training can help keep or increase muscle strength, which helps support and protect joints affected by arthritis.
- Aerobic or endurance exercises, such as cycling, which improves cardiovascular fitness, helps control weight, and improves overall function.
Yoga, for example, is considered a low-impact exercise that can safely be practised by anyone who has arthritis. It helps keep joints flexible and improves their range of motion. Also, many poses help strengthen the muscles, supporting the joints better. Regular yoga sessions of at least three times a week are helpful to people with this condition.
Apart from exercise, diet plays a crucial role in the life of an individual diagnosed with any form of arthritis. Here are a few food items that can help fight this chronic disease:
- Oily fish: high in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout have potent anti-inflammatory effects. They decrease joint pain intensity, morning stiffness and reliance on pain relievers.
- Turmeric: contains a chemical called curcumin. Scientists believe that this chemical may have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Garlic: Has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect that could decrease symptoms of arthritis. Research also indicates that garlic may enhance the function of certain immune cells to help strengthen the immune system.
- Ginger: Blocks the production of substances that cause inflammation. Consuming ginger in fresh, powdered or dried form aids in reducing symptoms of arthritis.
- Broccoli : One of the healthiest foods out there, broccoli contains sulforaphane, which can heal inflammation, according to studies.
- Walnuts: These nuts are loaded with nutrients associated with reduced markers of inflammation as well as high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Berries: Two weekly servings of strawberries lower chances of an elevated level of inflammatory markers in the blood by 14 percent. Berries are rich in plant-based compounds quercetin and rutin that boast a huge number of health benefits.
- Spinach and leafy greens: While all leafy greens combat inflammation, spinach in particular contains the antioxidant kaempferol that decreases the effects of inflammatory agents.
- Olive oil: Patients who consumed an olive oil capsule each day for 24 weeks showed a near 40 percent decrease in symptoms. Olive oil is an integral part of a diet designed to treat arthritis.
- Arthritis as a condition is associated with many myths and misconceptions. To debunk these myths about bone health and to highlight the symptoms to look out for early detection of arthritis, Middle East Arthritis Foundation, a non-profit organization to support those who suffer from arthritis, is organizing a comprehensive seven-day webinar between October 9 and 16, bringing together a host of leading experts from across the region to discuss best-practice strategies and initiatives for improving quality, person-centred care amid the pandemic and across multiple settings. The program will also detail the latest research, therapies and treatments, innovation, and technologies from around the world.
Dr Humeira Badsha
Dr Humeira Badsha is consultant rheumatologist and board member at the Middle East Arthritis Foundation