Arthritis is simply defined as "joint inflammation." However, there are many different types of arthritis, as well as a slew of misconceptions and misinformation about its causes, treatment, and prognosis, hidden behind this deceptively simple definition. To achieve any kind of real results when dealing with this disturbingly common disease (it is estimated that more than 20 million Americans suffer from it), it is necessary to look at and address its underlying causes.
Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the two most common types of arthritis. They are as follows:
More than 15 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, which is most common in the elderly. The cartilage that coats the ends of the bones in our joints begins to break down in osteoarthritis, triggering a vicious cycle of damage, reduced function, and health, which leads to more damage. It is not a systemic disease, but rather the result of damage to a specific joint caused by local wear and tear, trauma, surgery, or infection. It can also be caused by the side effects of other diseases.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
• Pain in the affected joint(s) after repeated use, especially later in the day.
• Swelling, pain and stiffness after long periods of inactivity, like sleep, that subside with movement and activity.
• Continuous pain, even at rest, with advanced osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is much more uncommon, affecting less than 1% of the population. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body's own immune system attacks the tissues that surround and cushion the joints. This occurs throughout the body, not just in joints that have seen wear and tear. It usually appears between the ages of 25 and 50, but it can appear at any age and affects women three times more than men. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include:
• Swollen, warm, painful joints, especially after long periods of inactivity.
• Fatigue and occasional fever.
• Symmetrical pattern of inflammation—if one wrist is involved, the other will be also.
• The small joints of the body (hands, fingers, feet, toes, wrists, elbows and ankles) are usually affected first.
As the disease progresses, the joints often will become deformed and may freeze in one position, making it difficult to move them.
Other Forms of Arthritis
There are some other recognized forms of arthritis in addition to these most common.
Allergic arthritis is caused by an allergic reaction, as the name implies. This type of arthritis was created in the lab by injecting research subjects with allergenic substances. The relationship between allergies and arthritis becomes clearer when we consider that both of these conditions are caused by inflammation in the body, and that inflammation can become chronic when an individual is repeatedly exposed to allergenic substances over time.
• Gonorrheal arthritis is inflammation of the joints resulting from gonorrheal infection.
• Gouty arthritis was the most widely known variety up until the 20th century. Caused by an imbalance of uric acid in the blood, it also causes joint inflammation and usually affects one joint at a time.
• Hemophilic arthritis results from bleeding into a joint in someone who is a hemophiliac. This often results in joint stiffness and inflammation.
• Menopausal arthritis can occur because of hormonal imbalances experienced during menopause.
• Tuberculous arthritis is joint inflammation found in people infected by tuberculosis where the infection has spread into the joints.
Working with Arthritis
What all these forms of arthritis have in common is that the joints have been subjected to some kind of stress: mechanical, biochemical or infectious. The stress leads to irritation of the tissues that causes inflammation. The irritation and inflammation lead to physical and chemical changes that send the joint(s) into a downward spiral of breakdown fueled by toxicity, more irritation and inflammation, and further breakdown.
In advanced cases of arthritis, irreversible deformation and degeneration may have occurred. But even in these situations, the foundation for healing lies in breaking the vicious cycle by cleansing the body of the toxins that have caused or resulted from the tissue damage. Once this is done, then nutrition can be used to aid the body’s ability to heal itself.
One of the misperceptions people have about bones is they associate them with the bleached-white and dried-out bones from creatures which have died. Living bones aren’t static, dead objects, they are composed of living tissue. This makes them capable of growth, change and repair. In fact, if joints weren’t alive they couldn’t become inflamed in the first place. Recognizing that bones and joints are living tissue helps us realize that they are capable of self-repair, if we remove the sources of irritation and supply them with the tools they need to repair themselves.
Think of an engine that hasn’t had its oil changed in a long time—as it gets dirtier and dirtier, it will start to function less and less effectively until it finally it stops working. To extend the analogy, an engine that has been “stressed” by contaminants or poor quality fuel or by being driven at excessive speeds or under excessive loads will eventually malfunction.
Joints are meant to endure a certain amount of wear and tear, but when toxins and inflammation are present, it creates more friction in the joints (just like the dirty oil in the car). Furthermore, when nutrients needed for joint health aren’t there then repairs can’t be made, which makes the joint more easily damaged and inflamed.
There are three things that need to be done to help arthritis to heal. First we need to identify and remove sources of stress, whether they are mechanical, biochemical or infectious. Secondly, we need to reduce inflammation and tissue toxicity, which is like changing the dirty oil in the engine and replacing it with fresh oil. Lastly, we need to supply nutrients necessary for joint health to aid the body in effecting repairs.
1. Remove Sources of Irritation
In osteoarthritis, reducing mechanical stress to the joints is an important key. This mechanical stress is often the result of repetitive habits of movement and posture that were not properly balanced. Correcting structural alignment through stretching, yoga, massage, or other forms of bodywork will help to take mechanical stress off joints and allow better blood flow and alignment. If excess weight is putting stress on joints, then obviously losing weight is going to help. Mild exercise that doesn’t put stress on the joints will improve blood and lymph flow to bring healing energy to the joints. Self-massage will also improve blood and lymph flow.
Where there is an infectious cause, obviously the infection will need to be dealt with using whatever remedies are appropriate to that type of infection. Where the cause of stress is biochemical, as in rheumatoid, allergic or gouty arthritis, improving the diet is a crucial step. Here are some things to consider.
High levels of acidity in the body have been correlated with overactive inflammatory response. Studies have shown that we can alkalize our body chemistry by replacing acid-forming meats, dairy, grain, nuts and beans with more alkaline foods like fruits and vegetables. These also have higher levels of the naturally occurring antioxidants necessary to fight inflammation.
Wheat, dairy and corn in particular have been implicated in triggering arthritis through what is called “chemical onset toxicity.” Acidifying citrus fruits should be avoided (aside from highly alkalizing lemon juice), as should nightshade vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and green peppers. Coffee and tobacco have both been linked to increased risk of arthritis.
Gentle fasting, fruit and vegetable juice diets and mild food diets can all help to strengthen the body’s cleansing abilities and to remove the toxins that are causing inflammation. Inflammation can be combated nutritionally by cooking with herbs like ginger and turmeric which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Oily fish such as salmon, as well as walnuts and freshly ground flax seed are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids which also combat inflammation.
2. Reduce Inflammation
Since arthritis is an inflammatory condition, remedies that reduce inflammatory reactions are an obvious place to start. Consider Thai Go or Super ORAC.
Herbs containing salicylates have been used for thousands of years to ease arthritic pain. Salycilates, the forerunners of modern aspirin, reduce joint swelling and inflammation and ease pain. The most famous of these salycilate-bearing herbs is white willow bark, which has been used since the time of Hippocrates for arthritis. Other plants containing salicylates include black cohosh and wintergreen. APS II with White Willow Bark, Triple Relief and IF Relief are herbal blends which utilize these natural anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing agents. They can be used as effective natural replacement for NSAIDs, without the side-effects. It goes without saying that short-term pain relief also needs to be accompanied by working on the underlying causes of the pain.
Certain plant seed oils containing the fatty acid GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) can help alleviate the pain and discomfort of arthritis. Found in evening primrose, borage, black currant, and flax seed oils, GLA is important because the body converts it to compounds with strong anti-inflammatory and immune regulating effects. Super GLA is a great way to supplement the diet with GLA and may also be helpful for arthritis. Omega 3 Essential Fatty acids are also beneficial.
There are encapsulated blends of anti-inflammatory herbs that not only help reduce inflammation and pain, they also aid in detoxification of tissues. As toxins are reduced, irritation and inflammation diminish, helping to slow or even reverse the downward spiral of damage. Joint Support is an anti-arthritic blend created by the famous nutritionist Paavo Airola that reduces inflammation, alkalizes the system and supports detoxification.
Joint Health is a traditional combination of Ayurvedic herbs that have been used for arthritis. It has similar actions to Joint Support. Other remedies that can reduce inflammation in arthritis include Whole Leaf Aloe Vera, Devil’s claw, and yucca.
3. Provide Nutrition to the Joints
Even in osteoarthritis, where the original stress is mechanical, nutrition plays a critical role. Healthy joints need good nutrition. When joints have the nutrients they need, they have a greater capacity to resist damage or to heal from damage when it occurs. So, appropriate supplements should be considered with all forms of arthritis.
Minerals are extremely critical to aiding joint repair. Silica adds resiliency to joints so they are less susceptible to damage. It is found in horsetail, dulse and HSN-W.
Calcium is important for joints, but taking calcium supplements doesn’t help unless other elements are present for assimilation and utilization, including vitamin D, silica, boron and magnesium. Skeletal Strength contains all of these nutrients and is the best calcium supplement for helping with joint repair. Still, many people actually do better with the herbal calcium found in Herbal CA, which also promotes bone and joint healing.
A very helpful formula is EverFlex, which combines MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin. MSM (MethylSulfonylMethane) is a sulfur compound. Sulfur, the eighth most abundant element in the human body, has a long history as a healing agent. For centuries, mankind has soaked in sulfur-rich mineral hot springs to help heal a variety of ailments. MSM supplies biologically active sulfur. It helps with liver detoxification and studies show it helps ease arthritis pain in many individuals.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar normally found in the human body and is the base material for making up mucous membranes, ligaments, tendons and synovial fluid in the joints. It helps joints to heal and can help them become more fluid and well lubricated.
Chondroitin is a long chain of repeating sugars found naturally in the joints and connective tissues. It helps to produce new cartilage and protects existing cartilage. Chondroitin helps by interfering with enzymes that destroy cartilage molecules and enzymes that prevent nutrients from reaching the cartilage.
Collagen is another major supportive tissue in the human body. Cartilage, ligaments and tendons are primarily made of collagen. This means the collagen found in Collatrim can be useful in preventing damaged cartilage from hardening and in promoting healing.
Looking closely at the causes and effects of arthritis shows both the complexity and the simplicity that underlie its symptoms—complexity in just how many factors there are to consider. Simplicity because all the factors and symptoms ultimately boil down to some very straightforward concepts. If we remove the stresses causing the disease, detoxify our bodies from the effects of the disease and build our systems up to be able to more effectively combat the disease, we’ll have gone a long way, not only in eliminating the symptoms, but also in creating health for ourselves at every level.
Herbal Extracts: Phyto-Soy
Topicals: Nature’s Fresh Enzyme Spray,