What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a term that is used to describe over one hundred and fifty different inflammatory, degenerative disease and syndromes that focus on damages that occur to the joints of the body. Although they are all distinct in the ways that they change the structure of the joints in the body all these diseases and syndromes have similar arthritis symptoms which include;
- Swelling of the Joints
There are acute and chronic forms of arthritis. Acute forms are often associated with a bacterial infection, whereas chronic forms of arthritis are more onset such as osteoarthritis and gouty arthritis.
Autoimmune arthritic conditions include;
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ankylosing spondylitis
- sjogren’s syndrome
- reiter’s syndrome
This is the most common chronic degenerative form of arthritis. It is most commonly affected by age and results in the softening, fraying and eventual breaking of joints and bones. Over time these broken down joints and bones thicken with the build-up of extra bone tissue. The joints fuse together with bone spurs and movement is restricted.
Beginning to affect individuals between the ages of 30-60 (and on average affecting three times as many women as men) rheumatoid arthritis works symmetrically, affecting the function and health of the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles. The synovial fluid that encases the joints becomes inflamed, eventually leading to the thickening of the membrane, growth of the joint cavity and fusion of bone ends leading to joint and bone deformity. Symptoms of this autoimmune disease include; joints are painful, warm and swollen, stiffness, fatigue, weight loss and general weakness.
This form of arthritis mainly affects the feet though sometimes it may have an effect on the fingers, hands and wrists as well as knees. The inflammation occurs as a result of increased uric acid levels in the body, which are often due to too much being produced, or too little being excreted from the body.
This form of arthritis results in the fusion of the vertebrae of the spine, resulting in a less flexible spine and a posture that is hunched. It begins to affect the individual in early adulthood (mainly men). When the disease becomes very severe there can be complications with eye inflammation, heart health and compression fractures.
This form of arthritis affects far more than just the joints of the body, it can affect the skin, kidneys, lungs, blood, cells, heart and brain. The disease often mimics symptoms of other illnesses (such as rashes) so it can be tricky to diagnose. Some of the symptoms include; a butterfly-shaped rash on the face, joint pain, fatigue, chest pain and dry eyes.
This form of arthritis can develop at any age but is often diagnosed later in life. Its main symptoms are dry eyes and mouth. Other symptoms include joint pain, swollen salivary glands, persistent coughing and vaginal dryness.
Reiter’s syndrome (or Reactive Arthritis)
This form of arthritis affects the joints of the body as well as, the urethra, eyes and skin. Caused as a result of an infection or sexually transmitted disease. It is most common amongst sexually active men between the ages of 20-40.
There are many possible causes for arthritis (some of which will be described in detail below);
- physical injury
- nutritional deficiency
- metabolic and immune disorders
- environmental pollutants
Why Arthritis Develops
Different forms of arthritis can develop for various reasons, however often arthritic conditions occur for more than one reason. When the body is out of balance, it is not just one organ that is affected. The organs and systems of the bodywork together, if one begins to fails, works slowly or is damaged in any way over time other areas of the body will begin to show wear and unbalance.
Autoimmune Arthritic Conditions
Autoimmune conditions can occur rapidly or over the course of several years. With proper blood work, autoantibodies can be discovered in the blood before the onset of the arthritic condition.
Autoimmune conditions germinate in a body that provides the disease, (1) the right genetics, (2) environmental toxins and triggers such as; stress, VOC, chemicals, bacteria, viruses, parasites, heavy metals, radiation, pesticides, etc), (3) and in some cases digestive imbalances.
Genetics cannot be changed, but the other stressors on the body can be mitigated and keeping the body, health, clean and strong will aid in preventing the onset of the autoimmune disease as well as reducing signs and symptoms if the onset has already initiated.
Digestive Issues and Arthritis
Impaired gut health has been connected to several arthritic conditions, including autoimmune arthritic diseases. There are many reasons why the intestinal lining can be damaged. Celiacs disease, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), candida, alcohol, parasites and food allergies can result in tiny areas of the small intestinal lining which are completely void of microvilli – thus creating gaps in the lining.
A healthy and well balanced intestinal lining will only allow for the absorption of amino acids and very small protein molecules. A permeable gut, on the other hand, will allow for larger food molecules (as well as bacteria and parasites) to pass through the gaps between the microvilli and eventually enter the bloodstream. When foreign particles that should not have been allowed to pass through the gut lining make their way through, the body retaliates by attempting to fight off these “foreign” pathogens with antibodies. Often these pathogens (food particles, bacteria and parasites, fungi and toxins) look very similar to tissues of the body and once the body begins to fight off and eliminate the foreign pathogens the antibodies will often strike the tissues. Additionally, these pathogens that enter through the digestive lining begin to move through the circulatory system eventually leading to various systemic and autoimmune diseases – such as arthritis.
Hormones are responsible for the balance of calcium levels in the body. If the level of calcium is out of alignment as a result of an unbalance in hormone levels, over time the bones of the body become porous, they are more prone to wear and tear. Another subsequent issue associated with hormonal balance and calcium levels is when calcium builds up where it should not. This is referred to as calcification and can occur in arteries, the heart and brain, as well as in joints and tendons. This may result in a loss or restricted range of motion as well as some pain or discomfort.
Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress
When the body undergoes oxidative stress as a result of trauma, head injury, infection, hyperoxia, toxins or excessive exercise free radicals form in great numbers. Free radicals are generally produced by either metabolic actions in the body or through an outside source such as x-rays, ozone, cigarette smoking, air pollution and industrial chemicals, these processes generate free radicals daily but they are dealt with by antioxidant defenders.
Issues arise when antioxidant stores in the body are low, or when oxidative stress becomes persistent resulting in high levels of free radicals. Such situations in the body will tarnish the health of the body, reduce the effectiveness of the immune system and bring about high levels of inflammation. Inflammation can be seen in the form of swelling, joint pain and stiffness and over time can make certain individuals more susceptible to developing an autoimmune form of arthritis.
Poor Diet and Arthritis
What one eats truly does shape how one will feel and how the body will respond and function. A highly acidic diet will result in the creation of more inflammation. This will bring about general discomfort and over time can lead to pain and swelling through various forms of arthritis. Diets low in fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds, grass-fed protein and alkalinized water are susceptible to being more acidic. Eating fast food – acidifying food – has been shown to increase inflammation in the body and contribute to the onset of any form of arthritis.
Carbonated beverages are a big singular culprit. Drinking carbonated soda beverages has been linked to a decrease in bone mineral density. Studies have looked at both the consumption of cola-based beverages as well as sugar-based sodas (diet sodas not producing the same results) and found that individuals (mainly women) were more susceptible to develop arthritis – particularly the autoimmune form of rheumatoid arthritis. Caffeinated beverages were also shown to affect bone health, particularly with calcium levels in bones.
Other reasons arthritis may develop in the body include;
- physical exercise – too strenuous/none at all
- old age
Arthritis Medications and What they do to the Body
Below is a list of several different arthritis medications, their action in the body, the minerals and nutrients they strip from the body and counteraction with vitamins and herbal remedies as well as any side effects that may be experienced. Make sure to speak with your physician if you have any questions about your medication, or if you would like to make changes to your treatment plan.
Codeine is an opium-derived pain reliever. It is either used by itself or with a combination of other medications in the treatment of pain.
Avoid herbs with high levels of tannins such as; green tea, black tea, uva ursi, red raspberry leaves, black walnut, oak and witch hazel. Tannins will interfere with the absorption of the codeine. Codeine should also not be combined with alcohol consumption as it will increase the side effects of the medication.
There are no known nutrients or minerals depleted by the intake of this medication.
A family of drugs that are used for their anti-inflammatory compounds.
Each form of corticosteroid has different interactions and effects (forms include: prednisone, fluorometholone, fluticasone, levalbuterol etc). However several forms have negative reactions to such herbals as foxglove, ephedra and licorice. Please speak with your physician or pharmacist to find out more.
This drug is used in the prevention and treatment of acute and chronic rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
It has been shown to deplete body stores of Calcium and vitamin D (both essential for the development and maintenance of strong and healthy bones).
It should not be taken alongside or with magnesium as it will affect the bioavailability of the drug in the circulatory system and prevent its absorption.
Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
This class of drugs includes; commonly -Tylenol, Advil and ibuprofen as well as more specific pain – Voltaren, Motrin, Meclomen, Celebrex and Clinoril. They are used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and gouty arthritis as well as for mild-medium pain, menstrual cramps and headaches.
They often deplete stores of vitamin C and should not be taken with the herbal white willow or the supplement lithium (which should be avoided as it has an adverse interaction with NSAIDs.
This drug is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It aids in reducing pain and inflammation.
It has been shown to deplete both folic acid and vitamin K and should not be taken alongside iron or PABA. It is beneficial to take a probiotic while on this medication (with a culture count of about 10-50 billion) as well as supplementing with vitamin K.
This medication is used to reduce and relieve mild to severe forms of pain. It blocks and prevents the uptake of serotonin to the brain.
This drugs should not be taken along with and patients should avoid alcohol as it may increase side effects of the medication as well as St. John’s wort, 5-HTP and L-tryptophan as they have adverse interaction.
Alternative Treatments & Lifestyle Changes
To experience positive changes in terms of inflammation and pain reduction, as well as feeling both physically and mentally balanced and healthy one cannot just focus on one aspect of alternative treatment several approaches need to be implemented. A wholesome diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle filled with mindfulness, positive vibes and stress management, when combined will show great benefits for individuals suffering from arthritis in all its various forms. The change may not be felt immediately, but remember the body was not brought to the state it is in today overnight, the change will take time but with time you will begin to feel amazing!
Many imbalances in the body stem from the food we consume after all we are what we eat! Diets high in processed foods, refined sugar, fats and factory farmed meats are acidifying and such an environment results in a build-up of inflammation, weakening the immune system and a general feeling of fatigue and frailness. Living with pain and discomfort day in and day out is no way to live! Making simple and slow changes to one’s eating habits will over time make a world of a difference for the body.
Vegan and Vegetarian Diets through healthy and wholesome when done correctly and supported with vitamins and minerals, studies have shown that switching to a vegan or lactovegetarian diet did not aid in the reduction of symptoms of arthritis. The Mediterranean Diet and diets high in fish were shown to be very beneficial in reducing inflammation. The consumption of broiled and baked fish showed amazing benefits at reducing the risk of contracting autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis.
The Paleo Diet has also been shown to aid in the reduction of inflammation and has been very beneficial for making it more comfortable for individuals to live with their autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus). However, this diet is undertaken needs to be done correctly. Meat products need to be grass-fed (and if possible grass-finished). Factory farmed meats and meat products are acidifying, low in phytonutrients, overall nutrition and taste. When animals are allowed to graze and eat what they were meant to eat the quality of the meat is not acidifying but alkalinizing.
Reducing the consumption of plants from the Solanaceae family (aka nightshades) is very beneficial for reducing inflammation. This family of plants includes tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatillos and goji berries.
GLA (aka gamma-linolenic acid) is a plant-derived fatty acid. In its’ dietary form, it has been shown to aid in the reduction of signs and symptoms of arthritis through the increase of dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). Studies have shown that after six months of use individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis experienced anti-inflammatory benefits and a reduction in pain. Sources of GLA include;
- Evening Primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Black Currant oil
These can be taken through capsules or as a liquid. They can be incorporated into smoothies and salad dressings.
Fish oil is good for crisis inflammation and not for prolonged use. Use for one month or when the pain is very bad and stopping once the inflammation and discomfort begin to taper down is recommended. EPA and DHA have five and six double bonds, which are more susceptible to oxidation (which will increase inflammation instead of a decrease). High doses of fish oil can be damaging without antioxidant protection.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) with a combination of bioflavonoids is incredibly beneficial for individuals with arthritis. This combination of antioxidants aids in reducing oxidative damage and stress to the body – thus aiding in the elimination of inflammation and reduction of pain.
- Beginning with 1000mg a day is beneficial, however, always start with bowel tolerance. Moving upwards to 10,000 mg is recommended – separating dosages to five daily intervals.
Consumption of citrus fruits and berries is also a great way to get antioxidants and their secondary plant compounds into the body. Choosing local and organic whenever possible is the recommended.
Ginger is another great antioxidant that has powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. It is effective at reducing joint pain and increasing mobility in individuals with osteoarthritis.
A great way to incorporate the benefits of vitamin c and ginger is through tea. Honey Lemon Ginger tea is a great immune booster and with daily drinking (reduce the amount of honey used if one’s throat is not sore) is a great way to contribute to the body’s fight against inflammation.
Curcumin, the powerful anti-inflammatory component of turmeric is another superfood that has been beneficial for individuals with arthritis. Making a soothing cup of Golden Milk is a perfect way to start and end a day. Throw in some peaceful and mindful meditation and bring even more stress-busting benefits into your life.
Weight loss can be incredibly beneficial for certain individuals in the reduction of symptoms and signs of arthritis such as pain and inflammation. Excess fat carries with it more toxins and heavy metals and thus feeds the production of free radicals. As stated previously the more free radicals that are present in the body the more inflammation is produced and with it pain and discomfort.
Safely managed weight loss to obtain a healthy and normal body weight is the best approach. Including with exercise and healthy and mindful diet, slowly reducing weight to not overwhelm the body with toxic build-up release (when you burn your fat you release the toxins that lived in the cells and this if done too quickly can shock the body and negatively affect the function of the liver).
Participating in activities such as yoga, swimming, Tai chi, walking, gentle stretching, physiotherapy, lymphatic massage, massage (with a registered massage therapist) and acupuncture can be very beneficial for reducing pain, promoting gentle weight loss and regaining mobility in joints.
Meditation, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques (even a nice hot bath for a short duration of time with will positively aid in supporting and relaxing ones adrenal glands – which produce cortisol the stress hormone) are beneficial in terms of helping individuals manage pain.
It may seem strange but when placed under tremendous or continued mental stress the body will often manifest physical pain, such as lower back pain, knee pain or wrist pain. Spending between 30 minutes to an hour each day participating in an activity that brings peace of mind and allows the individual to destress has been shown in studies to reduce the level of pain in individuals suffering from arthritis. Classical music, tai chi, yoga, mindful meditation and deep breathing allow the body to become grounded, centred and refocused.
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Amanda Filipowicz is a certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) with a bachelor in environmental studies (BES) from York University. She also has certification in clinical detoxification, prenatal and postnatal care as well as nutrition for mental health. She has been working as a nutritionist since 2013 and is a lifelong proponent of eating healthy.