What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes swelling and pain that can range from mild to excruciating. Although there are more than two hundred diseases classified under the name “arthritis,” most arthritic conditions fall into one of two categories: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is by far the more common, afflicting forty million Americans and 80% of those over fifty.
The pain and inflammation occur when the cartilage that protects the bones from rubbing against one another wears down. Not surprisingly, the disease usually appears in joints that do most of the body’s hard work: the knees, hips, spine, and hands. Although injury or the normal wear and tear of life often brings on cartilage damage, it can be made much worse by food allergies, poor diet, and mineral deposits in the joints. For some people the effects of mental and emotional stress aggravates arthritis pain. Changes in the weather – usually rain and falling barometric pressure – often cause arthritis flare-ups.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
is quite another story. It is the result of an inappropriate immune and inflammatory reaction in which white blood cells attack the joints; it can go on to destroy the bones themselves and even the muscles and skin. It is often exceedingly painful and can cripple its sufferers. While osteoarthritis affects men and women equally, RA appears three times more frequently in women. It affects only 2-3% of the population and can occur at any age, even in childhood. The course of the disease is difficult to predict. It may disappear a few months after its appearance, or it may grow progressively worse. Experts disagree as to the causes of RA, but it seems clear that genes, food allergies, bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, stress, excess acid in the body, and hormone imbalance all play a role. Many of the complementary therapies used for osteoarthritis are also effective in reducing pain and slowing the spread of the disease.
Underlying factors for both of these conditions may include poor digestive function (intestinal permeability), hormone imbalance, toxic metals, nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, and lifestyle factors.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms usually come on gradually, progressing as follows:
- Morning stiffness
- Painful, swollen joints
- Restricted range of motion
- Deformity of joints (in some cases)
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Inflammation, pain, tenderness, and discoloration in the joints, usually the shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers, ankles, or toes
- Morning Stiffness
- Lumps under the skin at the site of damaged joints
- Deformity of joints in long-term cases
- Fatigue, weight loss, weakness, and occasionally fever.
Root Causes of Osteoarthritis
- Fractures or other injuries, even those that occurred early in life
- Food allergies
- A diet high in fats, animal products, and other foods that promote an internal acidic environment
- Excess of body fat, which places extra stress on joints
- Emotional stress
- Poor digestion heath (increased intestinal permeability, bacteria imbalance)
- Hormone imbalance
- Biomechanical imbalance (e.g. Poor posture and abnormal foot arch)
Root Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Auto-immune malfunction
- Fungal, bacterial, or viral infection
- Overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (dysbiosis)
- Food allergies
- Toxic metal accumulation
- Emotional stress
- Hormone imbalance
Following are tests that can be give you an assessment of possible metabolic reasons for arthritis:
- Hormone analysis by saliva, urine, or blood (estrogens, progesterone, DHEA, thyroid, cortisol, IGF-1, thyroid panel).
- Glucose levels-blood
- Food allergy/sensitivity testing (including screening for celiac disease or gluten intolerance)
- Intestinal permeability-urine test
- Stool analysis-bacteria balance, parasites, fungi, food breakdown
- Vitamin and mineral analysis-blood or urine
- Toxic metal test-hair analysis or urine
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds provides a diverse amount of antioxidants that may benefit those with osteoarthritis. Essential fatty acids found in fish such as wild salmon and sardines, or nuts like walnuts can help decrease inflammation of the joints. Cartilage degeneration is caused in part to free radical damage to the cartilage. Reduce your intake of foods which contribute to inflammation such as red meat, cow’s milk, caffeine, simple sugars, and alcohol. Also, some individuals improve when avoiding nightshade plants, including tomatoes, eggplant, white potatoes, and all peppers (except black pepper). Controlling pH balance in the tissues is critical. Good news: Acid-alkaline balance is easy to regulate. You can make very simple changes to your diet—and improve your body’s pH balance within hours. See article on pH Balance: Is Your Body Too Acidic?
Losing weight is important to take stress of your weight-bearing joints. Gentle exercises such as swimming, aqua-aerobics, and other low impact exercise is recommended. Also, those with osteoarthritis of the feet, knees, hips, or low back may benefit from orthotic inserts. (See weight loss section.)
Stress reduction and stress hormone balance is particularly important for those with rheumatoid arthritis since they modulate the immune system and inflammation control.
MSM appears to have a natural anti-inflammatory effect. It can reduce osteoarthritis and rheumatoid symptoms such as pain, swelling, and improve joint function. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted on fifty men and women between the ages of 40-76 years of age with knee osteoarthritis. Participants were given MSM 3000 mg or placebo twice a day for 12 weeks. Compared to placebo, MSM produced significant decreases in pain and physical function impairment. MSM also produced improvement in performing activities of daily living when compared to placebo. (Kim LS, Axelrod LJ, Howard P, et al. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: a pilot clinical trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 2006;14:286-94.)
Dosage: Take 3000 mg twice daily for 12 weeks, then reduce to 2000 mg twice daily.
Safety: MSM has a mild blood thinning effects so consult with your doctor if you are on blood thinning medication. High doses may cause digestive upset such as diarrhea. If this occurs reduce the dosage.