Updated: Jun 18, 2020
What is the fluid that makes up 55-60% of our bodies? It allows all cellular processes to function. It prevents tissues from sticking together. It lubricates and cushions joints. We cannot survive without it. The picture below gives it away = WATER!
How to create joints like bamboo:
We typically take our joints for granted until they start hurting. We grow from gumby babies into springy children and then over time during our second and third decades of life we start losing flexibility. Unless we happen to get involved with gymnastics, which is not many of us! Almost all people over the age of 40 experience some weakness in their weight-bearing joints. Hip and knee replacement surgeries are becoming more common at younger ages. An estimated 21 million Americans suffer from Osteoarthritis and according to the Merck manual, OA becomes universal at age 70. Many adults stop doing the activities they enjoy because their joints just hurt too much.
I’m writing to encourage everyone that the pain and dysfunction associated with bone and joint issues does not need to be universal. It is not inevitable. There are many things we can do with good nutrition at every age and stage to boost the health of our joints to keep them strong, flexible and adaptable. Just like bamboo!
Nature Versus Nurture:
As an Occupational Therapist working in an outpatient Hand/Arm Therapy clinic, I meet older adults everyday suffering from joint and bone pain. And I’m noticing more and more people in their 30s and 40s having joint issues. While traditional hand therapies and custom fabricated orthoses to support or immobilize the affected hand and wrist joints can certainly help reduce pain, these external applications do not address the root health issues that create joint dysfunction. While it’s true that osteoarthritis has a genetic predisposition, it does not mean that just because it “runs in the family” that all members are destined to get painful OA. As the saying goes: genes load the gun, but it’s the environment that pulls the trigger.
I recently became certified as Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and I have new passion to educate people about what can be done from the inside out to promote healthy joints. What we eat and drink truly matters and greatly determines the status of our health. Food is medicine, for better or worse! And what we drink (or don’t drink) lays the foundation that affects all of our bodily processes.
Joint Real Estate:
Real estate agents talk about location, location, location but when it comes to joint health it is all about hydration, hydration, hydration! The root cause of joint pain and arthritis, as well as many other diseases, is chronic dehydration. Cartilage is the firm rubbery tissue that cushions our bones and joints and allows bones to glide next to each other. Cartilage is very thin, only 1 mm thick or less! Cartilage contains cells called chondrocytes that help make cartilage for the body. Chondrocytes are to cartilage as osteocytes are to bone. Chondrocytes are coral-shaped cells that fan out like brushes within the cartilage. These cells require sufficient water to keep their brush shape rigid which is what gives strength to the cartilage. When cartilage becomes dehydrated it begins to thin, break down and wear away which then allows the bones to rub together causing swelling, pain and stiffness.
Most people drink far below the recommended daily minimum. We drink other beverages to enjoy flavor and taste like coffee, tea, soda, packaged fruit juice and numerous kinds of alcohol, but these beverages are diuretics which means that they actually pull water from the body to dilute and process them. The simple truth is that our bodies need water, pure water, to function properly.
How much water is enough?
Here’s a simple calculation to know how much to drink each day:
Divide your weight in pounds in half. This number is how many ounces you need to drink each day at a minimum. If you drink diuretics (listed above), you need to replace those ounces with 1.5 times more water. When I share this with people they usually say, but then I’ll be going to the bathroom all day! The key is to sip water frequently throughout the day instead of chugging large amounts which flushes the pipes. And the best way to boost water absorption is to add some electrolytes to the water so it will get pulled into cells and not just run through your plumbing.
You can easily add electrolytes to water with a shake of sea salt or a squeeze of lemon or lime. Ditch the Gatorade and sports drinks because they are full of refined sugars and additives. I intend to share electrolyte recipes in a future blog post, but for now, all you need to boost water absorption is a pinch of unrefined salt.
Practical Tips for Success:
Calculate how many ounces of water your body needs using the simple formula above. Then find a water bottle and determine how many ounces it holds. Divide your total minimum daily amount by the # of ounces the bottle hold to find out how many bottles you need to drink each day. Take this water bottle with you everywhere, when possible, and refill it often. Consider taping a sticky note to the bottle to make a check mark each time you finish a bottle. Or put a stretchy string or bracelet around it with slideable beads to keep track of your consumption during the day.
Slowly build up your water intake and congratulate yourself when you hit the daily target. Remember that it takes time to build new habits (at least three weeks!) so be compassionate with yourself on the days when you get too busy and forget. I say buy yourself a cute easy-open water bottle to inspire yourself to take it with you wherever you go and drink up! Cheers to your health!!
If you would like to read more about the benefits of hydration, check out this article offered by the Nutritional Therapy Association: