Arthritis is a real pain in the joints — and nearly 30 million Americans have to deal with it.

Twenty-seven million of us deal with pain and stiffness from the wear-and-tear of osteoarthritis, where the cartilage that covers and cushions the ends of your bones becomes thin or disappears, and your bones rub together and hurt.

Another 2.5 million endure the red, hot, swollen and painful joints of rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to mistakenly identify your cartilage and bones as foreign invaders (like viruses)— and attack them.

Arthritis isn’t an “equal opportunity annoyer.” It picks on seniors (65 percent of people over 65 have osteoarthritis) and on women (seven out of ten people with rheumatoid arthritis). With so many folks afflicted, you’d think modern medicine would offer some good, safe solutions for arthritis pain. Think again.

The most common class of pain-relieving drugs—nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—hospitalizes more than 100,000 Americans a year from bleeding ulcers, and kills more than 16,500!

Adding joint insult to digestive injury, NSAIDs don’t slow the progression of arthritis—and may even speed it up! The best advice? Take steps to optimize joint health, so you can minimize the chances of developing joint problems in the first place. And there are three easy ways to do just that.

Joint-Optimizer #1: Feed Your Joints

There are several nutrients and natural compounds that are uniquely effective for promoting healthy joints.

Glucosamine Sulfate: Feeding Your Cartilage
Glucosamine is a component of cartilage. When you take a glucosamine-containing supplement, the compound is incorporated into your cartilage molecules, which helps repair joints and reduce the pain that can result from overuse. I recommend the sulfate form (not glucosamine hydrochloride), because sulfate also promotes healthy joint function. The standard dose is 750 milligrams, two times daily, taken with or without food. After six months, you may find that you don’t need to take the supplement daily; at that point, you may choose to take it only when your joints feel like they need help.

Chondroitin Sulfate: More Cartilage Support
This compound also helps create, maintain and repair cartilage. One downside is that only 10 percent is absorbed. To improve absorption, use the “low molecular weight” form of chondroitin. (Look for those words on the label.) The standard dose is 400 mg three times daily, or 1,200 in a single dose.

MSM: Sulfur, a Surprisingly Important Nutrient
MSM is an abbreviation for methylsulfonylmethane, a sulfurcontaining compound that gives your proteins a key building block needed for tissue repair. Research show that MSM, chondroitin and glucosamine work well together. It is reasonable to take all three of these daily for the first six to twelve weeks after you begin the regimen. This will lay a solid nutritional foundation The best advice? Take steps to optimize joint health, so you can minimize the chances of developing joint problems in the first place from which you can begin to maintain healthy joint function. After that, you can scale back to a lower dose.

For Nutritional Insurance, Take a Good General-Purpose Supplement
Dozens of other nutrients are also helpful to promoting healthy joint function—like B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, boron and zinc.)

Joint-Optimizer #2: Balance Immune Function

Curcumin and boswellia are two herbs that are particularly good at promoting a healthy and balanced immune system.

These can be found in a number of good herbal mixes. Both curcumin and boswellia are provided in the supplement Healthy Knees and Joints. Another excellent product that contains a highly absorbable form of curcumin is Curamin. Yet another herbal formula, End Pain, contains boswellia and willow bark (the herbal granddaddy of aspirin). The End Pain can be taken along with either the Curamin or Healthy Knees and Joints. Allow six weeks to see the full effect. You’ll be glad you did!

Another powerful immune regulator is fish oil. You can eat fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout or mackerel a few times a week, or take a fish oil supplement.

Joint-Optimizer #3: Use Them or Lose Them

If you want to maintain flexible, healthy joints, you need to use them the way nature intended. Namely, you need to MOVE them! I suggest exercising at least 20 minutes daily. Go for a walk outdoors (also great for boosting levels of vitamin D, which supports healthy muscles and joints). Swim or exercise in a heated pool (the buoyancy and warmth make this an ideal exercise for joints that need a helping hand). Yoga, tai chi or any other form of stretching are also good.

Important: Pain is your body’s way of saying, “Don’t do that!” So if you feel unusual pain while exercising, STOP and DON’T try to push through it.

Heat and Stretch
A great way to improve flexibility: use a heating pad or any other kind of moist heat for five to fifteen minutes on an affected joint, then slowly and gently move the bothered joint, gradually reclaiming your full range of motion.

For joints in your hands, try the herbal-filled “bean bags” you can heat up in the microwave, putting them on your hands. After five to fifteen minutes, gently stretch your fingers.

Jacob E Teitelbaum, MD

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, is a board certified internist and Medical Director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and Chronicity. He is author of the popular free iPhone application "Cures A-Z," and author of the best-selling book From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery/Penguin Group), Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill), Three Steps to Happiness: Healing Through Joy (Deva Press 2003), Beat Sugar Addiction NOW! (Fairwinds Press, 2010), and his newest book Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale Press, July 15, 2011). Dr. Teitelbaum knows CFS/fibromyalgia as an insider — he contracted CFS when he was in medical school and had to drop out for a year to recover. In the ensuing 25 years, he has dedicated his career to finding effective treatment.

Website: www.EndFatigue.com