About 50 million people in the U.S. have some form of arthritis. Arthritis is a general term that means inflammation of the joints and is often accompanied by symptoms such as redness, swelling, stiffness, and pain.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most common. Causes vary depending on the type of arthritis. However, in all arthritic conditions, the degeneration of joints involves some ongoing biochemical processes which negatively alter the metabolism that is essential for maintaining healthy joints.
Common Forms Of Arthritis
Here is a brief explanation of some frequently diagnosed forms of arthritis:
Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative arthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis, is the most prevalent type of arthritis affecting over 20 million Americans. OA is the degeneration of the cartilage within a joint. The synovial fluid that keeps the joint lubricated and cushioned is typically reduced as well, eventually leading to abnormal bone changes. OA is the most common form of arthritis. It is not a systemic condition and does not spread throughout the body. It affects only the joint(s) where the deterioration has occurred, of which most common are the knees, hips, spine, hands, and toes.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic inflammatory disease which manifests itself in multiple joints of the body, especially the fingers, wrists, feet, and ankles. It primarily affects the lining of the joints (synovial membrane), leading to erosions of the cartilage and bone and sometimes, joint deformity. RA may also affect nearly every other part of the body. It is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues. RA usually affects joints on both sides of the body equally and is often associated with fatigue and prolonged stiffness after rest.
Gouty arthritis is a defective metabolic disease of uric acid crystals depositing in the smaller bones of the feet and is usually accompanied with acute pain. Uric acid is a metabolic product of fructose and purines (nitrogen compounds) found in meats and organ meats.
Juvenile arthritis refers to all types of arthritis that occur in children.
Adkylosing spondylitis affects the spine. Due to inflammation, the bones of the spine grow together.
Fibromyalgia affects the muscles and attachments to the bone. It is most commonly found in women.
Infectious or septic arthritis is infection of one or more joints caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. In some cases, infectious arthritis can occur as a manifestation of Lyme disease, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick.
Psoriatic arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis that is associated with the autoimmune skin disease called psoriasis.
Systemic lupus erthematosus (lupus) is an autoimmune disorder that can inflame the skin, joints and connective tissues, kidneys, brain and other organs throughout the body.
Causes Of Arthritis
The causes associated with inflammation of the joints depend on the form of arthritis. They may include:
Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop arthritis, especially osteoarthritis.
Autoimmunity: Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus arthritis are examples of autoimmune disorders in which the body’s tissues are attacked by its own immune system.
Heredity: Scientists have discovered that the genetic marker HLA-DR4 is linked to rheumatoid arthritis, and HLA-B27 to ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. Although having the gene doesn’t mean that you will absolutely get this form of arthritis, you can if the conditions are right.
Infections: Some forms of arthritis are the result of bacteria, viruses, or fungi that can either cause the disease or trigger it in susceptible people. Lyme arthritis comes from bacteria transmitted by the bite of a deer tick. Rheumatoid arthritis may be triggered by a virus in people with a certain genetic marker.
Metabolic abnormalities: Gout, which affects mostly men, is the result of a defect in body chemistry, and in this case, the metabolism of uric acid.
Overuse: Repetitive motions can put tremendous strain on joints. Sustaining an injury to a joint further increases the odds of developing osteoarthritis in that joint.
Eat Right To Beat Joint Inflammation
Check for food sensitivities
Researchers found that rheumatoid arthritis and many other autoimmune disorders are highly related to food sensitivities, one of which is gluten. Gluten is a protein composite found in grass-related grains such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and kamut.
When the immune system misidentifies certain foods as “foreign”, chemicals are released from immune cells to destroy these “invaders”. As a result, tissue inflammation and damage occurs.
Overtime, food sensitivities compromise the integrity of the gastrointestinal lining and lead to a condition called “leaky gut syndrome”, whereby molecules that are usually too large to exit through the gastrointestinal lining escape to the bloodstream, causing systemic inflammation and in some cases, joint destruction.
If you have autoimmune-related arthritis, you should get a blood test, such as the Mediator Release Test (test for IgG, IgM, C3, C4), for food sensitivities. You can contact me if you need to do this test. Once you have determined your reactive foods, abstain from eating them for 3-6 months. The best way to be sure that a reactive food is safe again to eat is to challenge it by having it three times a day for three consecutive days. If no adverse symptoms appear, you are no longer sensitive to it.
More Omega-3, Less Omega-6
Cyclooxygenase or COX is an enzyme your body produces that regulates prostaglandins, which are mediators and messengers. There are two different COX enzymes – COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 is an enzyme that regulates prostaglandins that maintain the health of your stomach and kidneys. COX-2 is an enzyme created when there is inflammation.
When you take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to treat pain and inflammation, it inhibits the production of COX-2, hence, reducing pain and speeding up the recovery. However, one of the side effects of NSAID is that it also inhibits COX-1. Since COX-1 keeps your stomach lining healthy and affects blood clotting, NSAID has the tendency to cause stomach irritation and ulcers.
Fortunately, there is a non-drug way to cut down your inflammation. Researchers learned that COX-2 enzymes become more active and cause more inflammation when you take in too much omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids are abundantly found in corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, sunflower, and vegetable oils. Beware that many processed foods, snack foods, deep fried foods, and restaurant foods are prepared with such oils, so you want to keep consumption of these products to a minimum.
Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are fatty, cold-water fish such as Alaskan salmon, anchovies, sardines, and herrings and meats from grass-fed animals. Numerous studies have shown that omega-3 fats are remarkably effective in combating inflammation-related disorders, including arthritis.
Lastly, you should never use canola oil although it has been marketed as “heart-healthy” and is higher in omega-3 and lower in omega-6. The reason is that canola does not come from a natural plant but instead, the genetically engineered rapeseed plant. What’s more, a recent study indicates that canola contributes to vitamin E deficiency, a vitamin that’s essential for a healthy heart.
Eat Your Vegetables
Have generous servings of organically grown vegetables every day. They are low in sugar and full of antioxidants which help reduce tissue damage from inflammation.
However, when you have arthritis, you should avoid the nightshade vegetables (eggplant, all kinds of peppers, white potatoes, and tomatoes). They contain a substance called solanine, to which some people are highly sensitive. Solanine interferes with enzymes in the muscles and may cause pain and discomfort.
Other Nutrients For Joint Health
- Belongs to a group of natural pigments in the carotenoid family. Sea creatures with a red or pinkish color such as salmon, lobster, shrimp, and crab get this color from a diet of krill and other small organisms that eat astaxanthin-rich algae and plankton.
- Research found that astaxanthin is the strongest natural antioxidant known. It is many times more potent than vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, lutein, or pycnogenol. However, you need a higher concentration than what you normally get in seafood to reap the benefits.
- Astaxanthin is a very effective remedy for joint pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- If you have arthritis, start with 2 mg a day and gradually build up to 8-10 mg a day. Make sure your astaxanthin supplement is derived from marine algae and not synthetic.
- Cartilage loss, one of the distinctive signs of osteoarthritis, is associated with low levels of vitamin D. If you have joint pain due to osteoarthritis, get a blood test for your vitamin D level. The optimal is between 50-70 ug/ml.
- Provides joints with the building blocks they need to help repair the wear-and-tear on cartilage.
- Takes a few months to build up enough to see a benefit. If you have arthritis, you need to take up 2-3 grams a day.
- Many glucosamine supplements come with chondroitin or MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). Studies on the effectiveness of chondroitin and MSM have been inconclusive.
- Glucosamine supplements are always attached to salt. If your body is sensitive to salt, you should be careful with it.
- Most of the glucosamine on the market is derived from shellfish. If you are allergic to shellfish, you should avoid it.
- Some studies found that glucosamine may raise blood sugar levels in some people. If you are diabetic, you should be very cautious.
Concentrated tart cherry juice
- Most effective for gouty arthritis. Drink several tablespoons per day.
Exercise To Keep Joints Healthy & Flexible
Exercise is a must when you have arthritis. It helps build muscles, increase joint flexibility, and improve your general sense of well-being. If you have not been exercising regularly, start slowly and build up to higher activity levels to prevent injuries. Avoid intense activities that may strain the affected joint(s).
Your goal is to keep moving and commit yourself to regular exercise that includes these three types of activities:
- flexibility exercises (such as stretching, tai chi, yoga)
- weight training to strengthen surrounding muscles that support and protect the joint(s)
- aerobic exercises (such as walking, swimming, stationary cycling)
If you have significant pain with movement, you should consider working with a physical therapist or qualified personal trainer who can develop a safe and effective workout program for you.
Lose Weight If You Are Overweight
One of the benefits of exercise is its ability to help you achieve and maintain your ideal weight. Arthritis rates are more than twice as high in obese people as those who are normal weight. If you are overweight or obese, you have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. Each additional pound of body weight increases the compressive load over your knee by roughly four pounds. Fat cells also produce cytokines which are proteins that encourage inflammation. The more fats cells you have, the more inflammation in the body.