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Joint Health and Inflammation - Tips for Every Athlete

Author:Britt Maughan R.D.
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Joint health

Joint Health & Inflammation - Tips for Every Athlete
Joints serve as the connection between two bones allowing movement and flexibility. Joints consist of smooth tissues called cartilage, synovium, and synovial fluid. Joints allow you to bend your knees, elbows, back, neck and ankles. They allow you to row, lift weights, cycle, and run. There are 360 joints in the human body! Joints are essential to movement and need support due to the stress and physical activity we put our bodies through. Age also takes a toll on joints, causing them to wear and tear cartilage, which can lead to arthritis, discomfort, and decreased mobility. As athletes, we put our bodies through intense stress with both endurance activities and weight bearing exercise. Our performance depends on our body's ability to move quickly and efficiently, and joint health can be the difference between quitting a race and finishing first.

What is inflammation?
Inflammation has become a hot topic in the world of sports and nutrition. It is often the culprit of many health issues facing the majority of the population today – including heart disease, obesity, arthritis, autoimmune disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. While all negative outcomes, inflammation is part of the healing process, it is our body's natural way of responding to pain, illness, injury and stress. When something happens to our body, such as trauma, infection, or frostbite, our body goes through a process of acute inflammation. It starts at the site of the injury when inflammation mediators are sent out, which starts the vasodilatation of blood vessels, bringing increased blood flow to the affected area. With increased blood, comes leukocytes and plasma that begin the healing process. So, if this is natural, why are so many diseases correlated to inflammation?

While acute inflammation is natural and necessary to the healing  process, constant inflammation that is active at a low level is not natural and begins to affect the body in a damaging, rather than a healing way. In a tightly regulated system, inflammation will break down tissue, attack pathogens, and rebuild tissue – but left in an unregulated environment, this process can attack healthy tissues and become damaging. What leads to an unregulated system? There are many factors that can affect inflammation mediators such as lack of sleep, an unbalanced diet of processed sugars, deficiencies in omega 3 fatty acids, too much omega 6 fatty acids, lack of movement, stress, lack of recovery and downtime, and poor gut health. All of these factors have been linked with an increase in the inflammatory response and a decrease in anti-inflammatory actions in the body.

What does this mean for athletes?
A balanced training schedule with rest, recovery, and sleep is paramount in controlling inflammation. Over-training can lead to a state of chronic inflammation. I’ll repeat, OVER-TRAINING can lead to constant inflammation! Take care of your machine by feeding it well, let it rest and recover when it needs to, and supplement the diet with additional anti-inflammatories.  As athletes, we push our bodies hard and are put through stress that the average Joe wouldn't dare attempt! As endurance athletes, we compete in 100 mile races, 24 hr mountain bike rides, run in ultra-marathons! With an increased level of training and stress, comes an increased level of inflammation…you get the picture!

Below is a list of key supplements that every athlete should consider when it comes to joint support, maintenance, and care.

  1. Glucosamine is classified as an amino sugar, a type of carbohydrate used for structural tissues instead of an energy source. It is the basic building block in joint cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. Glucosamine plays a major role in the synthesis of collagen, cartilage, bone, skin, and various lubricating fluids in joints. It also helps promote elasticity of joint movement and functions as a mild anti-inflammatory. Many sports supplements include this amino sugar.
  2. Collagen: There are three main types of collagen typically used in supplements. Type I Collagen is the most prevalent type found in the body and is beneficial for hair, skin and nails. It plays a major role in the composition of tendons, bones, skin, and organs. UC-II Collagen is a standardized source of undenatured type II collagen. Type II collagen is the main component of articular cartilage. UC-II is not absorbed into the body, but binds to the surface of a specific part of the lower intestine where it triggers an immune response which stops the body from attacking and breaking down healthy cartilage. It has been shown to support flexibility and mobility and aid in joint comfort during strenuous exercise. Type III Collagen is found in reticular fibers (found in connective tissue). This network supports soft tissues that are found in the liver, bone marrow, and the lymphatic system. 
  3. Chondroitin Sulfate is a natural component of several tissues in the body. Like glucosamine, chondroitin is one of the important building blocks for the repair of damaged cartilage. One of chondroitin's important functions is its ability to block the activity of enzymes that break down cartilage, this helps reduce inflammation and protects cartilage from further damage.
  4. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a metabolite of dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) a well-known solvent which has been used topically as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. MSM has been reported to reduce arthritic joint pain, enhance wound healing, and reduce allergic symptoms. The most notable effect of supplementing with MSM is the decrease in exercise induced oxidation which decreases muscle damage and soreness.
  5. Omega 3 Fatty Acids: EPA and DHA have many health benefits including the reduction of inflammation, serum triglycerides, and frequency of heart attacks. In regards to joint support, Omega 3's block inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins and act as anti-inflammatory chemicals called resolvins. They have also been shown to reduce stiffness and joint tenderness. The best source of EPA and DHA is found in fish oil with a minimum of 30% EPA and DHA content.
  6. Astaxanthin: As a member of the carotenoid family, astaxanthin is a fat-soluble nutrient with a unique molecular structure that gives it superior antioxidant capabilities and anti-inflammatory and immune-regulating properties. Because of its small molecular weight, natural astaxanthin works directly at the site of muscle tissue with beneficial effects, particularly for athletes and very physically active people. Astaxanthin is primarily found in marine sources including salmon, algae, lobster, arctic shrimp, crab, crawfish, red trout, and krill.  
  7. Cissus QuadrangularisA perennial plant of the grape family that is known for it's benefits and uses supporting bone health and joint support. Athletes suffering from joint pain have found success using this supplement due to it's anti-inflammatory properties. It's known to be used in Ayurvedic Medicine and has been used in the treatment of bones, as it contains properties that promote mineral retention and growth. More research is still being conducted to understand all of it's benefits and uses.
  8. Food and Nutrition: Having a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and fatty acids can help with joint support and fight inflammation. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A, C, E and selenium are rich with antioxidants that fight free radicals that can have a negative impact on your joint health. Include grapefruits, oranges, mangoes, raspberries, pineapples, avocados, nut and seeds into your diet. To get a healthy dose of selenium try salmon, oatmeal and brown rice. To increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, eat a diet rich in salmon (always look for wild caught vs farm raised), sardines, herring, nuts, and seeds. Other sources of nutrition support include turmeric, which is a member of the ginger family and has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to relieve temporary joint discomfort due to over exertion. You can take turmeric in pill form or add it to your proteins and veggies. A quality vitamin and mineral supplement such as SportMulti, can help support the diet and overall joint health. 

What we recommend
First and foremost, eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, quality proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. This will offer you the antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals needed for joint health and overall well-being. In addition to your diet, manage your stress levels and create a training program that is balanced with rest and recovery. With proper nutrition and training in place, adding supplements will help undo the damage done and keep maintenance and performance at optimal levels. We've done the research for you and have found some of the best supplements out there to give you the support you need. Our top picks include HEALVital Proteins Collagen PeptidesMdrive Joint, Tissue Rejuvenator, AstaFactor, and Stronger Faster Healthier Omega 3 + D3 Fish Oil. Depending on your current level of joint health and mobility, we suggest taking fish oils and collagen daily. If you simply need support, try a combination of Mdrive Joint and AstaFactor. If symptoms persist and more aggressive treatment is needed, we suggest adding Tissue Rejuvenator

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