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Osteoarthritis Is On The Rise, And Pain Meds Aren’t The Solution

A word ends in “itis” when it describes the inflammation of a particular organ or body part. Bronchitis, gastritis, dermatitis, and arthritis are all inflammatory conditions that are more common today than ever before. 

As more people spend most of their lives consuming the Standard American Diet (SAD), chronic inflammation has become a widespread problem leading to all sorts of adverse health outcomes. Highly processed foods, added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and calorie-dense foods all lead to inflammation, so it’s no wonder so many “itis” conditions are on the rise. 

Stop by any American fast food restaurant and order anything on the menu. Every meal is made up of some of the most inflammatory foods you can find. When these restaurants sell you a “value meal,” inflammation is the only value you are getting, and “itis” conditions are inevitably the result. 

One of the most common of these inflammatory conditions is arthritis. As the baby boomer generation ages, it is only expected that the prevalence of this condition will continue to climb. It is expected that by 2030, the number of people with arthritis will rise to 67 million. 

Out of all the different types of arthritis impacting millions of Americans, osteoarthritis is the most common. This type of arthritis occurs when flexible tissue at the ends of bones wears down. Over time, the wearing down of this tissue usually results in joint pain, commonly felt in the hands, neck, lower back, knees, or hips. 

What makes osteoarthritis even more common and problematic? Nearly 2 in 3 people who are obese will develop symptomatic knee osteoarthritis in their lifetime. This is simply because, in addition to the inflammation, obesity puts additional strain on the joints, further expediting the deterioration of tissue and the pain it causes. 

NSAIDs don’t necessarily improve conditions like osteoarthritis; they may make them worse, in fact

The solution? Pain meds, of course. While diet and lifestyle changes could positively impact someone with osteoarthritis, most people won’t cut out inflammatory foods or lose weight to combat symptoms. Instead, many people manage the symptoms with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  

After all, these pain relievers are relatively cheap, accessible, and considered safe and effective. However, according to a recent study, researchers believe that NSAIDs may actually worsen arthritis inflammation. Millions of people take anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil) to ease their joint pain, but according to this study, they may be unintentionally increasing the swelling and discomfort in their joints over time. 

It is worth noting that the study focused on people with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis. Scientists studied 277 people who took NSAIDs for at least one year to manage their pain and compared the swelling of their knee joints with a control group of 793 people who didn’t rely on NSAIDs for pain relief. 

The key takeaway? Whether you have osteoarthritis in your knees or not, there is something we can all take away from this recent study. In our current system, we are almost always encouraged to take a drug to manage symptoms instead of learning to tackle the problem at the root cause. This is never the best solution, and sometimes it’s not a solution at all.

Drug intervention has its time and place, but for many conditions caused by diet and lifestyle, it is precisely diet and lifestyle that can also fix the problem.

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