Everything you ever needed to know about relieving arthritis
Arthritis is a painful, chronic disease that can have a major impact on quality of life. As joints deteriorate, simple tasks become difficult: opening a jar, walking to the mailbox, handling tools. Over time, mobility becomes more restricted. What’s worse, arthritis sufferers must face the unkind reality that their condition may gradually worsen. And summer, hot weather and humidity can intensify the condition.
But that doesn’t mean we have no recourse. While arthritis is often incurable, there are measures we can take to help mitigate the pain and stiffness and even slow its progression. The key is understanding the disease and making the right lifestyle adjustments.
What is arthritis?
Most people are familiar with the two main types of arthritis: rheumatoid, an autoimmune disease, and osteoarthritis which is “wear and tear” arthritis, but there are actually more than 100 forms of the disease. For example, other autoimmune diseases like psoriasis are associated with a type of arthritis. Lyme disease often affects the joints as well. While some of these conditions are more common in older people, there are around 300,000 children with arthritis in the US. Overall, nearly 46 million Americans suffer from some form of this condition.
While arthritis is mostly associated with joints, it can also damage other parts of the body. Some forms, such as rheumatoid, attack major organs and systems, such as lungs, kidneys, skin and blood vessels.
However, the most common form, osteoarthritis, generally strikes the joints. Over time our cartilage, the natural cushion between bones, can begin to wear down with repeated movements and strain. This leads to pain, stiffness and decreased mobility.
At its base, arthritis is an inflammatory disease, so the key to controlling symptoms is mitigating that inflammation. To achieve this, we have a number of natural remedies at our disposal, including diet, activity and targeted supplements. By combining these, we can put together an effective strategy to tackle arthritis.
We are often told that we are what we eat. Yet, as a nation, we really don’t take that advice to heart. Many of our most popular meals are highly inflammatory. Fast and processed foods, refined flour, sugar and factory-farmed red meat are all known to increase inflammation. Add in alcohol, caffeine, stress and exhaustion, and we get a perfect storm for chronic inflammation and the many degenerative conditions it can fuel.
But it all starts with food.
After we’ve reduced or eliminated inflammatory ingredients from our diet, we need to emphasize the anti-inflammatory variety: whole, nutrient-dense foods like sprouted grains and legumes, lean proteins, healthy fats, green vegetables, bright colored fruits like berries and mango, raw unsalted nuts and seeds, culinary herbs and spices, and lots of filtered water.
Foods like sprouted whole grains contain a lot of fiber, which will help detoxify the body and reduce inflammation. Brightly colored fruits and green leafy vegetables are high in phytonutrients and antioxidants which help scavenge harmful free radical molecules, remove toxins and fight inflammation, while offering numerous other protective benefits.
I particularly recommend alkaline vegetables, such as cucumber, broccoli and avocado. These can help control acidity in the body and promote detoxification. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, are also rich in sulfur compounds, which slow inflammation and support joint and tissue health.
For protein, choose sprouted legumes, nuts and seeds, and organic meats or wild fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines. These fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which provide both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Omega 3s can reduce the joint pain associated with both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis and have also been linked to improved cardiovascular, pulmonary and cognitive health. Omega 3s are also found in walnuts, flax, chia seeds and other sources.
For those who cannot bear the morning without a hot caffeinated beverage, switch from coffee to green or black tea. Tea is rich in antioxidants and polyphenol compounds that reduce inflammation, support immunity and promote numerous other areas of health.
One of the unique things about cartilage is that it gets very little blood flow. The movement of our joints lubricates cartilage, brings in nutrients and eliminates waste. For that reason and many others, movement is an important component to joint health.
I am a particular fan of gentle activity vs. strenuous workouts that can damage muscles and joints. Walking and swimming are excellent and gentle ways to increase circulation and lubricate the joints. Walking, in particular, can be done anywhere. It’s as simple as seeking out the farthest parking space, rather than the closest.
Exercise also serves another important function: It reduces stress, which is a major contributor to chronic inflammation. Long-term anxiety increases the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, which feed inflammation. As a result, anything we do to control stress reduces this inflammatory environment and supports both joint and overall health.
In addition to gentle exercise, I also recommend mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, which have been shown to improve both mental and physical health and control inflammation. There are also moving meditations, such as yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, which combine the benefits of healthy exercise with mindfulness.
Bone and joint health are inextricably linked together. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to support strong bones. Calcium has been touted for years in dairy ads to increase bone density, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t act alone. Yes, having more calcium can be helpful, but we also need vitamins D3 and K, as well as magnesium to support bone health. Vitamin K is particularly important, as it helps ensure that calcium goes where it should, rather than depositing on artery walls or other areas where it can cause a problem.
While we’re on the subject, dairy may not be our best source for calcium anyway, as it’s difficult for many people to digest. Kale, oranges, broccoli, almonds and turnip greens are all calcium rich.
I also recommend methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), an organic sulfur compound that reduces joint pain and inflammation. Sulfur is a major component in many connective tissues. MSM can be taken in capsule form, but is also found in grains, fruits and vegetables.
Glucosamine and chondroitin, which are found naturally in cartilage, have shown some benefits as well. In one large multicenter study, the combination helped relieve pain in many participants with severe arthritis. They were less effective, however, for people who only had mild pain. While more research needs to be done, glucosamine and chondroitin certainly have their place in a larger anti-arthritis regimen.
Another excellent anti-inflammatory is curcumin, a highly active compound derived from turmeric root. Curcumin has been shown to regulate inflammatory proteins on the cellular level. Another excellent spice with anti-inflammatory qualities is ginger.
Galectin-3 fuels inflammation and arthritis
One of the most interesting anti-inflammatory supplements comes from an odd source: orange peels. Citrus pectin has been used for many years to support digestive health, but because the molecules are so large, the body doesn’t absorb it. However, modified citrus pectin (MCP) is a special form of pectin which is easily absorbed by the body and does an excellent job at reducing chronic inflammation.
The reason is that MCP blocks a protein called galectin-3, which is known for its ability to promote chronic inflammation and fuel a number of life-threatening illnesses. High levels of galectin-3 are linked to invasive cancer, heart disease and fibrosis — uncontrolled scar tissue build-up associated with arthritis and stiffness, organ damage and many other conditions. MCP has a special affinity for galectin-3, binding and blocking this rogue molecule to reduce systemic inflammation and fibrosis in organs and tissues – including joints. In fact, it seems to have a particularly powerful impact against arthritis.
MCP is also recognized for its ability to detoxify heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium from the body. Since toxins tend to accumulate in joints, a healthy detoxification program can offer relief against painful arthritis symptoms. For more information about the benefits of modified citrus pectin, I recommend a new book by health writer Karolyn Gazella, called A New Twist on Health: Modified Citrus Pectin for Cancer, Heart Disease and More. Details can be found at www.newtwistonhealth.com.
Arthritis can be difficult to treat because there’s no magic bullet or fast-acting natural relief. While this is a challenge, it shouldn’t stop us. By harnessing diet, exercise, mindfulness and targeted supplements, we can reduce the inflammation and scar tissue buildup, increase lubrication to the joints and consequently control the associated pain and stiffness. In addition, by managing chronic inflammation, we also reduce our risks for cancer, cardiovascular disease and numerous other conditions. In the long run, these simple changes can increase overall health to help us not only live longer, but live better — with more energy and vitality for the things that keep us going.