Conquering arthritis: From herbs to stem cells

Conquering arthritis: From herbs to stem cells
Join Dr. Alexandra R. Bunyak at Carlsbad’s Dove Library Oct. 13 at 12:30 p.m. to learn more about the scientific advances in regenerative medicine. Courtesy photo

This article is the fourth in a series of educational pieces by Alexandra R. Bunyak, MD; she is the founder of the innovative regenerative medicine practice BOUNDLESS, a sports, spine, and arthritis care clinic in Encinitas.

Arthritis is an ancient degenerative condition — evidence of its ravages can be found in all animals dating back to the dinosaurs — but the most modern of scientific knowledge and techniques are being used to manage and even conquer its effects.

Strategies from herbal therapies to the latest stem cell treatment are helping people decrease symptoms, improve function, and delay or avoid joint replacement surgery.

What follows are answers to questions patients are asking in my clinic.

What is arthritis and what are the different types? 

Arthritis is defined as pain, stiffness, and inflammation of the joints. There are two main categories of arthritis:

1. Inflammatory arthritis (ex: rheumatoid arthritis): a set of less common conditions causing severe inflammation of multiple joints at once and associated with systemic autoimmune disease, and

2. Degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis): characterized by damage to the cartilage, instability of the joint, milder inflammation, and bony overgrowth of one or a few of joints. The majority of my patients have this more common type of arthritis.

Is surgery the only option for osteoarthritis?

Today we are no longer limited to passively waiting for the arthritis to reach severe enough proportions to require joint replacement. Additionally, many joints do not have an effective replacement option at this time.

Recent advances in arthritis treatment allow us to help stabilize the joints, decrease inflammation, and stimulate regrowth of cartilage, potentially slowing arthritis progression and improving pain and function for years.

What are the best natural/holistic approaches for arthritis? 

There are many things you can do yourself to improve your arthritis symptoms:

1. Engage in physical activity: shown to improve joint stability, decrease abnormal stresses by improving muscular control, improve nutritional supply to the joints, and control weight and inflammation.

2. Diet plays a key role: make sure you eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in necessary nutrients for joint health.

3. There are a multitude of anti-inflammatory supplements on the market, including tumeric, ginger, boswellia, glucosamine, and flavocoxids, that help reduce inflammation without the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories such as Advil.

In addition, there are many natural/holistic approaches that are available to you with the help of your integrative/regenerative musculoskeletal physician:

1. Conservative options, including heel wedges and bracing, biomechanical evaluation and correction, mind/body approaches, therapeutic laser therapy, topical anti-inflammatories, and nutritional testing/optimization

2. Minimally invasive therapies and regenerative injections, including your own growth factors and adult stem cells to boost the health and stability of your joints.

What are regenerative injections and how do they work? 

Regenerative injections, including prolotherapy, platelet rich plasma injections, and adult stem cell therapies, are thought to work by naturally stimulating your own systems of healing and regeneration. Research has shown that these treatments can regrow cartilage and increase the stability of a joint.

Of these, fat-derived stem cell therapies appear to be the most effective in moderate to severe arthritis, helping over 90 percent of arthritis sufferers appreciate relief of pain and improvement of function for years.

How do I know which regenerative approach I should choose?

Each regenerative treatment has strengths and weaknesses, and each patient needs to be evaluated individually to craft the best treatment plan. At BOUNDLESS, we offer multiple regenerative options, including both bone marrow and fat-derived stem cell treatments, allowing us to help each patient achieve their best result.

How can I learn more? 

Join Dr. Bunyak at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 13, at the Dove main branch library in Carlsbad as she discusses scientific advancements in regenerative medicine as they relate to arthritis.

The free talk will last for about 40 minutes, followed by a Q&A session. For more information, visit feelboundless.com or call (760) 632-1090.

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