As we get older, so do our joints. Our knees aren’t what they used to be— and come to think of it, neither are our shoulders, backs, hips, elbows, necks, fingers, wrists and toes.
It’s difficult to know exactly how many people suffer from joint pain, but about 20% of Canadians, or 7 million people, say they have arthritis, which is the primary cause. Whichever the joint and whatever the cause, joint pain can range from mildly annoying to severely debilitating, interfering with our ability to get exercise and live our lives.
So what do our joints do, how does joint pain develop, and what can we do about it? In order to understand that, first let’s have a little biology refresher.
JOINT PAIN 101
Our joints are mobile connections between our bones, to help us move smoothly. To do this, they contain many moving parts, which can, and do, go wrong from time to time.
These moving parts all play a different role. Some are better known than others.
Cartilage covers the bone surface and helps to reduce friction. Ligaments are elastic bands of tissue that limit movement and support the joint. Tendons connect the joints to muscles. Meanwhile, the lesser known bursas are sacs filled with liquid to reduce friction, and the synovial membrane and fluid lines, seal and lubricate the joints.
The failure of any of these moving parts can lead to the bones rubbing together, resulting in friction and pain. Loss of support and muscle tissue can further limit our physical abilities.
So what causes these failures? When we’re younger, it’s usually injury. But as we get older, joint pain is more likely to be caused by arthritis.
In Canada, the most common forms of arthritis are osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and gout. Here’s a quick explanation of how they can affect our joints:
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease typically affecting the joints in our hands, feet, hips, knees, and spine, breaking down cartilage and the underlying bone. Over time, this causes increasingly intense pain, stiffness, and swelling, and can lead to a severely reduced range of motion.
OA is the most common form of arthritis in Canada, affecting around 5 million Canadians, more than all other forms of arthritis combined, and sadly, there is no cure.
Women are more likely to get osteoarthritis than men. Other risk factors include genetics, obesity, joint injury or malformation, and having a sedentary lifestyle. If your job involves repeatedly stressing a joint, for example, as a construction worker, that also makes you more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease caused when our immune system, which is usually there to attack infections and keep us healthy, begins attacking the lining of our joints.
The resulting inflammation in the joints leads to redness, pain, swelling, and a hot feeling in the lining of a joint. In time, this will damage the joint. RA most commonly affects hands, wrists, and feet, but once underway, the inflammation can also affect our eyes, lungs, or heart.
About 300,000 Canadians have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), about 1% of the population. Anyone can get RA, although it tends to affect women more than men. Sadly, it is not known what causes the immune system to attack the joints like this, and there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
SYSTEMIC LUPUS ERYTHEMATOSUS (SLE)
Lupus is another autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system turns on itself. However, in the case of lupus, it’s not just your joints that are attacked, it’s all the tissues in your body.
As a result, the symptoms of lupus are many and varied, wreaking havoc across the whole body, and may come and go. Just focusing on your joints alone, lupus will leave them painful and swollen.
About 1 in every 2,000 Canadians suffers from lupus, most typically women under the age of 45. It is not clear why some people develop lupus, whilst others don’t. Unfortunately, there is no known cure.
Gout is caused by the buildup of tiny amounts of a chemical called uric acid in the joints.
This acid is the product of our bodies breaking down high-protein food and other substances, and is usually carried by our blood to our kidneys, where it is disposed of in our urine.
However, when there is too much uric acid in our blood, uric acid crystals can get deposited in our joints, most often our knees, ankles and feet. As well as causing painful flare ups of swollen, red joints, the crystals can also form bumps called tophi under the skin around the joints.
People with gout can go months without suffering a flare up, but when they strike, gout flare ups can incapacitate you for hours, days, or even weeks. They are usually triggered by the consumption of protein-rich food or alcohol, or dehydration. Repeated flare ups can cause serious joint damage.
About 5% of Canadians suffer from gout. Men are more likely than women to develop gout, but other risk factors include age, diet, high blood pressure, obesity, genetics, and trauma. There is no cure.
SO WHERE DOES WASABI COME IN?
Well, for 2,000 years, real wasabi has been used in traditional Japanese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, and there’s a good reason why.
Wasabi and other cruciferous plants, including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, all contain a type of phytonutrient called glucosinolates, more so than any other vegetables. When you chew or grate the root, these glucosinolates are released and transformed into substances called isothiocyanates, which are also known as ‘mustard oils’ and give wasabi its pungent taste and smell.
But one isothiocyanate in particular, 6-MSITC, has also been found by a myriad of studies to be a powerful anti-inflammatory, which could help reduce pain and swelling caused by arthritis.
To cite only two examples, research published in Advances in Pharmacological Sciences in 2012 found this isothiocyanate inhibited several inflammatory factors; meanwhile, a study published in 2015 in J-STAGE found even wasabi leaves alone have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s just one of the health properties of this amazing plant, which is why wasabi is becoming the supplement of choice for today’s active, health-conscious, won’t-be-slowed-down people just like you. That’s why, at our family-owned and operated farm in Abbotsford, BC, we grow real wasabi, and use modern technology to dry and powder the whole plant so you get wasabi’s full, anti-inflammatory benefits.