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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine March 2007
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Next-Generation Nutrients for Rapid Relief of Joint Pain


By Dale Kiefer

In recent years, adults seeking relief from the crippling pain of arthritis have had to choose between expensive, potentially dangerous pain-relief drugs and safer but slower-acting supplements that support joint health. While supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been repeatedly shown to improve both arthritis symptoms and joint functionality, it may take weeks or even months for the benefits to be felt—offering little relief in the meantime for those with severe, debilitating joint pain.

Fortunately, several new compounds have been identified that work quickly to relieve pain and promote rapid healing, thus bridging the gap between the onset of discomfort and the beginning of relief. These new-generation compounds not only offer faster-acting pain relief, but also work over time—either alone or in combination with traditional joint-health supplements—to provide comprehensive, broad-spectrum support for joint repair and tissue regeneration.

New Weapons for Fighting Joint Pain

Health-conscious adults who are interested in maintaining healthy joints have long relied on nutritional supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin sulfate, and methyl-sulfonylmethane (MSM). While years of rigorous scientific study attest to the effectiveness of these supplements in relieving pain and supporting long-term joint health, one drawback has been compliance; high doses are required to obtain the maximum benefit. Another drawback is their onset of action.Put simply, these traditional supplements take time to work, with studies suggesting that it may take two weeks or often even longer longer to fully experience their effects.1-8 Understandably, this delay in apparent relief may cause some patients to abandon therapy too soon. Patience is a virtue, but when pain strikes, it is only natural to seek immediate relief.

The good news is, scientists have made great progress in developing joint-health supplements with a more rapid onset of action. These remarkable compounds—which naturally nourish joint fluids and tissues, while improving joint pain and functionality in just hours or days—represent impressive new weapons in the pain-relief arsenal. They include:

  • Keratin, which stimulates healthy new joint tissue and confers powerful antioxidant protection.
  • Hyaluronic acid, an important component of connective joint tissue formerly available only by prescription—and only then by injection directly into the joints.
  • Korean Angelica, an herbal extract that acts on the central nervous system to fight pain, without the adverse gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects associated with COX (cyclooxygenase) inhibitors such as ibuprofen and Celebrex®.

These agents work through several mechanisms to restore healthy joint function and structure, relieve inflammation, and provide immediate pain relief. They also complement traditional joint-health supplements such as glucosamine and MSM, by keeping pain at bay and “buying time” for these effective but slower-acting compounds to take full effect.

Understanding Arthritis

Although it can strike at any age, arthritis is commonly viewed as an all-too-familiar hallmark of aging. Arthritis most often manifests in the knees, hips, spine, and hands.

Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting nearly 21 million Americans over the age of 25. As the US population continues to age, osteoarthritis is expected to become endemic among older adults. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases estimates that by 2030, approximately 72 million Americans will have reached the age of 65 and be at high risk for osteoarthritis.10

Osteoarthritis primarily affects joint cartilage, the hard but slippery form of connective tissue covering the ends of bones wherever they meet to form a joint. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide smoothly over one another, absorbing energy from the shock of physical movement. In osteoarthritis, the surface layer of cartilage begins to degenerate, eventually causing bones under the cartilage to grind together, producing pain, swelling, and a loss of joint mobility. Left unchecked, this degenerative process may cause the joint to lose its normal shape. Small deposits of bone, often called bone spurs, may crop up at the edges of the joint. Bits of bone or cartilage may also break free and float inside the fluid-filled synovial membrane surrounding the joint, causing still more discomfort and damage.10

Osteoarthritis-induced pain and disability may cause feelings of anxiety and helplessness, while imposing limitations on daily activities or job duties. In advanced cases, patients may have difficulty participating in everyday personal and family activities and responsibilities. With the high costs of treatment and lost wages due to disability, osteoarthritis can have an equally crippling effect on one’s financial health. Traditional treatments often begin with aspirin or prescription drugs, eventually progressing to more drastic measures such as injections of corticosteroids (or hyaluronic acid) and joint replacement surgery.10

Rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common form of the disease, is characterized by painful swelling and inflammation of the joints. A chronic, progressive illness that can destroy joints and result in functional disability, rheumatoid arthritis is considered an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system generates abnormal antibodies that attack the body’s own cells and tissues.

Keratin: Antioxidant Protection and Support for Joint Repair

Human joints are exceedingly vulnerable to the effects of aging,10 due to both everyday wear and tear and the ubiquitous presence of oxidative stressors. Scientists have now formulated a novel compound composed of keratin to counteract the various forces that degrade joint health over time.

Keratin benefits joint health by:

  • supplying key building blocks for joint repair
  • stimulating potent enzymatic antioxidants
  • possessing intrinsic natural antioxidant activity.

Found in much of the body’s connective tissue (including skin, hair, and teeth), keratin is actually a class of fundamental proteins containing an exceptionally high content of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine is a rich source of sulfur molecules, which make up an important constituent of joint tissue. When sulfur molecules bond to one another, they form an extraordinarily strong link. These “cysteine bridges” provide much of keratin’s structural rigidity.

Such rigidity is a highly desirable trait in weight-bearing joints, which require both flexibility and resilience in order to function as effective shock absorbers.

Sulfur plays an important, multifaceted role in healthy joint tissue. Joints are made up in part of biological polymers, or compounds consisting of smaller, identical molecules linked together. Sulfation is the incorporation of sulfur molecules in these polymers, a process that occurs naturally when joints are healthy. Proteoglycans, which are protein-sugar polymers, gain much of their flexibility and crush resistance from these sulfur-to-sulfur bonds. Diseased joints, by contrast, are characterized by impaired sulfur metabolism.11-16 When joints are no longer able to incorporate sulfur efficiently, their structure deteriorates, leading to pain and stiffness. By supplying a source of sulfur-rich cysteine, keratin may contribute to the synthesis of proteoglycans in the cartilage responsible for cushioning joints.

In addition to supporting healthy joint structure, keratin offers important antioxidant support to joint tissues. It not only acts as an antioxidant itself, but also supplies cysteine to the joints, which works as an intracellular antioxidant to fight damaging reactive oxygen species. Furthermore, the body uses cysteine derived from keratin to help manufacture glutathione, one of its most important and multifunctional antioxidant molecules. Glutathione plays a central role in detoxification reactions in the liver. It is also an essential component of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme that provides direct antioxidant protection for cells and is especially important for healthy joint tissues.17,18

Keratin thus supports joint health via two critical mechanisms: by stimulating the synthesis of essential joint-supporting proteoglycans, and by promoting the production of joint-protective antioxidants in the body.19 In an effort to capture these beneficial effects, scientists in New Zealand have formulated Cynatine FLX ™, a soluble form of the keratin protein that is bioactive in the body.

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