End Arthritis Suffering
Stiff and swollen joints aren’t just a result of age—there could be an underlying reason for your pain. Although it aches to think about, you may be a victim of arthritis. But there are ways to vastly improve living with the disease, and comprehensive holistic approaches can offer lasting relief.
Did you know that arthritis is the leading cause of disability in America? An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from arthritis or arthritis-related symptoms—that’s 1 in 5 people struggling with arthritis pain. Millions of Americans struggle with everyday tasks such as walking, standing, or even holding a pencil. It can progress to cause joint deformities, brittle bones, loss of mobility, and complete destruction of the protective covering around joints.
The term arthritis is often used to describe a single condition, when, believe it or not, over 100 kinds of arthritis actually exist. It’s not just one disease, but an aggregate of illnesses whose common features include joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation.
Many people think of arthritis in a degenerative or inflammatory sense—their bones ache and their joints aren’t as flexible or pain-free as they once were. But beyond expected “wear and tear,” the most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis results from accidents, injury, or simple neglect of our bodies.
Osteoarthritis is common in men under 45 years old but occurs three times more often in women over age 45. Most types of arthritis are chronic and occur more often as we age. Aging is a significant factor in this condition; so as baby boomers grow older, expect more occurrence of the condition. Other common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder) and gout (a condition that usually affects the small joints in the hands and feet).
Arthritis is considered to be one of the most common health complaints in America. You might have some type of arthritis if you have: ongoing joint pain, joint swelling or stiffness, tenderness or pain when touching a joint, problems using or moving a joint normally, or warmth and redness in a joint. If any one of these symptoms lasts more than two weeks, see your regular doctor or a rheumatologist, who specializes in treating arthritis. If you have a fever, feel physically ill, or suddenly have swollen or stiff joints, see your doctor right away. There are several assessments your health care provider can administer to determine if you have arthritis and, if so, what kind. Tests include X-rays, blood analysis, review of family history, and lifestyle concerns.
Treating Arthritis Naturally
A holistic diagnostic approach to arthritis is less concerned with diagnosis and more interested in determining the underlying causes. A holistic practitioner surveys the organ system to build a complete picture of the patient’s illness. This assesses the phases of the body’s dysfunction that precipitated the onset of arthritis.
From a holistic viewpoint, arthritis is the result of an accumulation of problems that stem from layers of toxicity, malnutrition, and dysfunction. This is why your holistic doctor investigates the function of your digestive, immune, and detoxification system. Holistic medicine cannot reverse serious bone and tissue deformities; however, quality of life can be vastly improved. It is also important to point out that, like many chronic conditions, your arthritis did not appear overnight. It is a culmination of years of lifestyle and diet. Don’t expect it to be corrected in days or weeks. A holistic approach to arthritis will take months—and require permanent lifestyle and diet changes.
Natural medicine can offer arthritis sufferers lasting relief from pain and inflammation. Arthritis develops as a result of several factors including an accumulation of toxins in the body (from the environment, food, drugs, and other sources); bacterial and yeast infections; parasites; nutrient deficiencies; and food allergies. It is important to understand the root cause of arthritis so you can become actively involved in treating it. Although natural treatment therapies don’t have the quick fix of conventional pharmaceuticals, they do offer substantial benefits over time.
Over half of all people who suffer from arthritis have a mixed disease consisting of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Many feel these conditions are a normal process of aging and expect a magic pill to correct the condition. Instead, several therapies are needed to reverse the underlying factors—nutritional deficiencies, infestation of parasites, and liver and digestive dysfunction that end up manifesting themselves as arthritis. Alternative medicine views arthritis as a correctable disease that requires adjustments to specific organ systems, diet, and lifestyle. By making positive changes in these areas, you can reverse or prevent its onset.
As with other chronic conditions, diet has a big impact on arthritis. Eating the standard American diet can make your pain worse. Saturated fats, white flour, sugar, red meat, chemical additives, yeast, and dairy products can increase inflammation, invoke allergies, and interfere with hormone production, cellular integrity, and the function and mobility of joints. Changing the way you eat changes the way you feel. The right food can keep you free of stiff joints, swelling, and fatigue, improving your overall health.
Many degenerative conditions are related to a diet low in fiber. There are several arthritic friendly foods including natural raw nuts, unsaturated oils such as unprocessed coconut, flaxseed, sesame, or cod-liver oil; fish; fruits and vegetables (beets, broccoli, beans, peas, carrots, and yams); small amounts of meat from wild game and free-range organic beef and poultry; and organic wholegrain breads. Foods to avoid include processed foods, shellfish, refined table salt, soft drinks, candy, and processed cereals.
The concept of using food as medicine is particularly important for those suffering from arthritis. Conventional medicine accepts that a nutrient deficiency is related to specific nutrient-deficient diseases (such as a relationship between the lack of vitamin C and scurvy), but alternative medicine believes a deficiency is present when there is even a slight breakdown of the body’s optimum function. Levels of many important nutrients have direct consequences on joint function and cartilage structure.
The type of diet recommended for those suffering from arthritis is a vegetarian-based, whole-food diet. Whole (unprocessed) foods are rich in the nutrients needed to fight destructive free radicals; promote skin and tissue health; repair bones, muscles, and tendons; and promote regularity. In addition, since these foods are more nutrient dense and filling, they are less likely to cause overeating and the resulting weight gain. Since being overweight can put stress on weight-bearing joints, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is important to recovering from arthritis. At first glance, this may seem like a radical diet change, but whole foods put less stress on the body because they are more easily digested and contain fewer toxic substances than processed foods. A diet high in fiber helps move food through the digestive tract before they have a chance to form toxic substances.
Dietary fats are an important factor for anyone with arthritis. The wrong kinds of fats increase inflammation in joints, while “good” fats keep inflammation in check. Most animal foods contain large quantities of fat—mostly saturated—that raise levels of inflammatory compounds in the body and increase arthritic symptoms. Whole foods are typically high in healthy fats, including essential fatty acids, which help decrease inflammation and improve the health of those suffering from arthritis.
Making changes to your diet can be difficult. It can be especially challenging when balancing family needs, busy job schedules, and social engagements. Food is often a big part of our lifestyle. The positive is that an arthritis-friendly diet is not necessarily a diet—think of it as a lifestyle change. These changes improve your arthritis, lower your blood pressure, increase your energy, improve your sleep, and make you feel better in general. We don’t suggest a radical change to your lifestyle; rather, make gradual changes that can easily be incorporated into everyday life. A first step is to stop buying snack foods such as soda, chips, processed cookies, and candy. Substitute trail mix, popcorn, and herbal teas. Begin by changing your meals one at a time.
Start with breakfast—a meal many skip or eat on the run. Instead of a pastry and multiple cups of coffee, begin your day with a whole-grain, high fiber cereal accompanied with a serving of fruit or fruit juice. This easy breakfast can be prepared and consumed in less than ten minutes, and allows you some peaceful time to think about your day and relax before your hectic schedule begins.
After you are comfortable in these changes, modify your lunches. For many, this can be the most difficult meal to adjust. Busy work schedules and meetings often force us to either skip lunch or grab a quick fast-food lunch. Others often use lunch as a social break from hectic work schedules, valuing time to socialize with co-workers. If this is the case, try to order healthier items from the menu. Many restaurants offer vegetarian and heart healthy options. Also consider portion size, and ask the server for a “take-home box” if the serving is too much. Another tip is to share with an associate or order from the senior menu. Don’t assume that salad is always a healthy option, either; many restaurant salads are laden with processed dressings and are high in sodium and other additives.
Dinner is another difficult meal to modify. Work on introducing the whole-food menu to your entire family so you do not feel like you are alone. Select whole-grain pastas; fresh fish; lean, organic meats; and fresh vegetables for salads. Avoid many packaged and prepared foods that are high in sodium and preservatives. Merely eliminating inappropriate fats from your diet produces immediate benefits for arthritis sufferers.
There are a number of important nutrients that have immediate and direct consequences on joint function and cartilage structure. Low levels of antioxidant vitamins increase the potential for free radicals to attack and destroy joint tissue. Deficiencies in amino acids contribute to the breakdown in cartilage, leading to arthritic changes in the joints, loss of mobility, and bone deterioration. Most of these nutrients and vitamins can come from your diet; however, in cases where specific deficiencies occur, they can be added through the use of supplements.
Make sure you discuss your need for supplements with your alternative health-care provider to ensure they do not interfere with other pharmaceutical medications you may be taking. Vitamins that are useful for pain and inflammation include those with a high degree of antioxidant activity (vitamins C and E), those involved in bone structure and joint mobility (vitamin A and K), and those typically deficient in arthritis patients (vitamins B3 and B5). Simply taking a good multi-vitamin is not a solution for your arthritis. Use supplements as an addition to a healthy diet—not as a replacement.
The Impact of Exercise
Daily exercise and physical activity are important components of a healthy lifestyle, but they are an absolute necessity for those suffering from arthritis. Regular exercise improves energy levels, provides nourishment for muscles, and maintains a healthy weight. Muscle fitness helps reduce pain and stiffness and can halt the progression of arthritis. Remember to start off slowly with an exercise program, working with a qualified health-care practitioner, physical therapist, or personal trainer who understands the exercise needs of arthritis sufferers.
It is also important that you are not causing undo stress to joints that have been degenerating for years; if joint pain gets worse while exercising, consult your healthcare practitioner. An exercise program should be a combination of aerobic exercises and isometric or weight training exercises. It is important to start off slow and work up to a regular exercise routine. Aquatics make muscles work harder because of the water’s increased resistance, but the body’s buoyancy also reduces shock and trauma to bones and joints. Swimming is one of the best water exercises and can be used as an aerobic workout if continued for 20 minutes or more. T’ai chi, a unique Chinese system of slow, continuous, flowing movements, is a low-impact exercise that creates calmness for those with arthritis. Incorporating daily exercise into your lifestyle is a time-consuming task, but once implemented, you will quickly see the benefits.
Other Treatments for Arthritis
Once you are on the track to reducing arthritic pain, there are other treatments you may consider. These are especially important for those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. A diet based on processed foods, chemically treated fruits and vegetables, and foods that contain high levels of saturated fats create a buildup of toxins in our internal organs. The constant circulation of toxins in the body taxes the immune system, which must continually strive to destroy or eliminate them. Most of the body’s digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs along the 25-foot passageway that comprises the small and large intestines. It is important to keep these organs free of toxic buildup and alive with healthy digestive microbes for efficient nutrient absorption.
Cleansing the colon to remove accumulated toxins is vital for arthritic sufferers in order to moderate the immune system and stop the chronic inflammatory response that accompanies an overburdened detoxification system. It is also important that the intestines have friendly bacteria to maintain a healthy digestive process. There are a number of easy-to-do processes to cleanse your colon. These include colon hydrotherapy (the gentle infusion of warm, filtered water into the colon), enemas, colon-cleansing programs, and the use of probiotics. Other important organs to consider in a detox program are the liver and kidneys. All of these organs may retain years of toxins that need to be purged to ensure proper bodily functions.
More recent evidence points to infectious and/or allergenic causes for some forms of arthritis. Speaking to your integrative practitioner about long-term antibiotics or Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET) treatment may also be avenues to explore.
There are several conventional medical treatments for arthritis. Many of these drugs block the symptoms of the pain but ignore the underlying cause of the disease. Pain relief is a good short-term solution, but not a cure. In some cases the drugs provide short-term relief from years of abuse or from injury, but you should use this time to modify diet and lifestyle to eliminate the need for the medications altogether.
There is a place for treatments such as conventional drugs and injections of corticosteroids, but they are not long-term solutions. Continued use can contribute to loss of appetite, stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and in some cases increase risk of heart attacks. Other side effects include depression, mood changes, bloating, muscle weakness, and brittle bones. The drugs do not cure arthritis; they simply mask the conditions.
Like many chronic conditions, arthritis and the pain associated with it can be reduced. The ability of the body to recover from years of abuse is amazing. Reducing weight, eating properly, and getting adequate exercise can certainly improve your ability to live with arthritis.