Finding arthritis relief in the deep blue sea.

What is Arthritis?

There are two distinct types of arthritis-Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, a disease which affects 1.3 million Americans, is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints leading to swelling, pain, and stiffness. The disease usually begins between 35-65 years of age, and the cause is unknown. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is much more common affecting an estimated 27 million Americans. Osteoarthritis is characterized by wear and tear of the cartilage in the joints. Though the exact etiology is unknown, factors such as weight, genetics, overuse, and age (usually occurs after age 45) are thought to play a role.

What are Sea Cucumbers?

Sea cucumbers are marine animals found worldwide at the bottom of the ocean floor. As echinoderms belonging to the class Holothuroidea (1250 species), they have an average lifespan of 5-10 years. An interesting fact about sea cucumbers is that when threatened by a predator, they eviscerate their internal organs as a distraction while they escape (the organs later regenerate quickly).

In ancient Hawaiian culture, loli (Hawaiian name for sea cucumbers) were often presented as romantic gifts. In China, they were used for thousands of years as a kidney tonic. Today, sea cucumbers are a regular part of the diet in the Far East and Mediterranean regions. Considered a delicacy in China, sea cucumbers are often served at celebrations and holiday festivals.

Sea cucumbers are known as the earthworms of the sea. As they cling to reefs or lie outstretched on the sandy ocean floor, their down turned mouths sweep back and forth like vacuum cleaners grinding sediment and organic material into finer particles. These actions facilitate the penetration of oxygen in lagoons, reefs, and other habitats. Today, these invaluable ocean dwellers are threatened with extinction due to the rise of illegal poaching. Indeed, sea cucumbers have become the focus of lucrative international trade with more than 4 million being fished each year. The Galapogos Islands have been hardest hit. CNN journalist Korey Capozza in 1998 interviewed Diego Bonilla, chief officer of Galapagos National Park on the situation there. He stated “If you see areas where the water is in bad condition, it’s because the sea cucumbers have been stolen.

To learn more about the problem, visit Sea Shephard, a nonprofit marine wildlife conservation organization at the following links:

http://www.seashepherd.org.uk/galapagos/galapagos_environmental_threats.html

http://www.seashepherd.org/

How can Sea Cucumbers improve arthritis?

Sea cucumbers are rich in chondroitin sulfate which is commonly used to treat arthritis. In the body, chondroitin serves as the building blocks for cartilage in the joints. Many recent studies have shown that chondroitin supplementation can provide significant improvement in pain, inflammation, and joint function in arthritic joints. Another great benefit is the high omega 3 fatty acids concentration found in fish oil. Omega 3’s can reduce inflammation, and studies have shown pain reduction in patients taking omega 3 supplements (enabling them to reduce their doses of NSAIDS and steroids).

There are currently no randomized clinical trials studying the effectiveness of sea cucumbers themselves in relieving arthritis pain (though chondroitin and omega 3 fatty acids-chemical compounds found in sea cucumbers-have been studied and found to be effective in relieving arthritis pain). Though chondroitin and omega 3’s can improve arthritis pain (enabling you to take fewer potentially harmful pain remedies) they do not alter the course of the disease. Always consult your physician before supplementing your diet with sea cucumbers as they can be toxic for those with sea food allergies. They can also interact with certain medicines such as digoxin. Sea cucumbers can be eaten as part of the regular diet and prepared as a stir fry, a soup, or simply grilled with vegetables. Some pharmaceutical manufacturers make sea cucumber supplement tablets (the dosage will vary depending on the manufacturer).

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