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Heberden's Nodes: Why Are My Knuckles Knobby?

My mother suffers from Heberden's nodes on her fingers. I am 58 and am seeing what may be the beginning of these changes. What supplements can I take to keep them at bay?

Answer (Published 1/15/2009)

The lumps or nodules you refer, called Heberden's nodes, occur on the knuckle closest to the end of fingers. Similar lumps are called Bouchard's nodes when they form on the knuckles closer to the palm. In both cases, the nodes are named for the physicians who first described them. The underlying cause is arthritis, and the nodes themselves consist of bone spurs, called osteophytes that develop around the joints in response to a prolonged inflammatory process. Fortunately, Heberden's nodes usually are painless and usually don't limit the function of the fingers. They're most often seen in women over 40, and since they tend to run in families, may represent an inherited form of osteoarthritis, the type of arthritis caused by wear and tear and, sometimes, injury.

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I don't know of any supplement that can prevent the nodes from worsening, but you may be able to keep the underlying arthritis in check by following my anti-inflammatory diet (see my anti-inflammatory food pyramid, as well) and observing these recommendations:

  • Read The Arthritis Cure by Jason Theodosakis, M.D.; Brenda Adderly; and Barry Fox, Ph.D., and follow its advice about using glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate.
  • Watch your weight. While your hands may be pain free, Heberden's nodes may signal arthritis elsewhere. Being overweight can tax joints making them more painful.
  • Take fish oil, 2-3 grams a day in 2 divided doses with meals.
  • If you are a woman, take supplemental calcium and magnesium, 1,000 mg of calcium and 500 mg of magnesium daily.
  • Take an herbal combination of anti-inflammatory herbs, including ginger and turmeric.
  • Try visualization and meditation to both accept and improve your condition by taking advantage of the mind-body connection.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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