As humans advance into old age, wear and tear causes the joints to deteriorate even more than other parts of the body. When they become inflamed and swollen, the condition is known as degenerative joint disease.
Because of the pain that this ailment inflicts, it's much harder to exercise the joints and easy to worsen the damage to the cartilage, underlying bone and the synovial bursa, the fluid-filled sac that lubricates a joint to prevent wear from friction.
The usual culprits are injury, overuse, obesity, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and working in wet and cold conditions.
Practitioners of eastern medicine say that middle-aged livers and kidneys do not function well enough to overcome the damage done to joints, and the reduced circulation of blood around the joints compounds the problem.
Preventing joint degeneration
To ward off degenerative joint disease, Dr. Dang Minh Tri gives some recommendations from experts that we should adopt correct posture and avoid strong, sudden movements when working or exercising, especially when carrying, pushing or lifting heavy loads. One's weight should also be watched and kept down, and any joint disease that does manifest itself must be treated promptly.
Living with degenerative joint disease
To treat degenerative joint disease without using medicine, physical therapy can be used such as applying a hot compress to the affected joint or directing infrared light onto it, according to Dr. Phan Huu Phuoc from the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City. Just be sure not to burn the skin.
It also helps to eat plenty of fish, vegetables, and fruit, especially tomatoes, and to cut down on coffee.
Dr. Phuoc says that the commonest complaints from patients with degenerative joint disease are pain, inflammation, deformation, and the enforced limitations on exercise.
Another specialist in this field, Dr. Nguyen Vinh Ngoc, also has some tips on what to eat to prevent degenerative joint disease.
- First off, eat plenty of pork, chicken, duck, shrimp, crab, tuna and salmon as they contain the omega-3 fatty acid in abundance.
- Just as beneficial is the essence of simmered beef or calf rib cartilage as they both contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which are natural compounds that strengthen cartilage.
- For a calcium supplement, dishes based on tibia or rib are good, as is shrimp or simmered fish that has not been deboned.
- To boost the immune system and prevent oxidation, eat cereals, soya beans, seed grains and vegetables.
- Papaya, pineapple, lemon and pomelo are full of beneficial Vitamin C and are anti-inflammatory, so eat lots of them.
- Eating avocados or soya beans seems to help as well. Degenerative joint or groin joint sufferers should drink avocado or soya bean juice for six months to ease their condition.
- Chili, pepper, ginger and lá lốt (piper lolot) leaf also help reduce inflammation and relieve degenerative joint pain.
- Nấm (mushroom) and mộc nhĩ (wood ear fungus): Mushrooms taste good and do a power of good too as they strengthen the body's resistance to disease, slow the aging process, and reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Wood ear fungus helps to lower blood pressure and prevent atherosclerosis, and it boosts the immune system, inhibits the formation of tumors, and even plays a role in combating the insidious effects of radioactive substances on the body.
- Nấm hương (shiitake mushrooms) provide Vitamin D2 to prevent or treat rickets and anemia. They also reduce inflammation, make a good tonic for physical depression, and help with a paralyzed limb.
- For a healthy dish to ward off degenerative joint disease, shiitake and wood ear fungus can be combined with green cauliflower (vitamins K and C for strong joints), carrot and red capsicum (vitamins A and E to protect joints and bone).
- Tomato can relieve joint pain as the seeds are a substitute for aspirin, a commonly used analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent.
- Research by Swedish scientists has shown that drinking wine in moderation can halve the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- When a joint is clearly swollen and inflamed, it's best to eat and drink simple, cool food like water melon, waky pumpkin, lotus stems, peanuts, black beans, cow's milk, soya milk and black jujubes, and avoid hot, grilled or fatty food, goat and other fatty meat, chili and alcohol. Also recommended is cartilage-rich food such as fin, pork ear, rib, crab, shrimp and egg soaked in vinegar.
To finish, here are three recipes for coping with degenerative joint disease as suggested by Dr. Thu Huong:
- To make pork rib and waky pumpkin, cook 250g sliced pork rib in a pot with three bowls of water over a high flame for 15 minutes, then add 500g chopped waky pumpkin and continue cooking until the meat is soft. Season with a pinch of salt and sugar. This dish is suitable for sufferers when their joints are swollen, red and a little hot.
- A healthy soup to ease swollen joints can be made with 250g mướp tươi (fresh edible luffa or loofah) and 250g peanuts. Start by peeling the peanuts and soaking them in water for eight hours, and slicing up the luffa. Cook the lot in a pot with two bowls of water over a high flame for 20 minutes, and season to taste with sugar and salt.
- For a soup that reduces light joint swelling and acts as a tonic, cook ten jujubes and 50g ý dĩ nhân (bo bo or Job's Tears) in a pot with two bowls of water for 30 minutes. Drink the soup twice daily, for breakfast and dinner.