Almost everyone has heard of arthritis, but what is it exactly? How do people get it? Is it just a symptom of old age, or can it be prevented? If you have it, is there anything you can do?
The word “arthritis” literally means joint inflammation, and its major symptom is joint pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis affects some 70 million Americans (one out of every three people), and is the reason behind 39 million doctor visits and over a half million hospitalizations. As you can see, this is a hugely widespread disease.
Before you can understand what’s wrong with your joints, you need to understand what a joint is and how it works. Any place in the body where two bones meet is called a joint. Sometimes those bones actually fuse together. For instance, your skull is an example of an area with fused bones.
In the joints where the bones don’t actually touch, this is where you can develop arthritis. In these joints, a small amount of space exists between the two bone ends. The space between the ends of the bones keeps them from grinding against each other and wearing each other down.
For extra protection, the bone ends are capped with a slick, tough, rubbery material that is eight times more slippery than ice, and a better shock absorber than the tires and springs on your car – cartilage! Extremely unique and tough, not a single man-made substance is more resilient, a better shock absorber, or lower in friction than cartilage. It is made up of 65 percent to 85 percent water, which helps keep the joint well lubricated and slippery for ease of movement. Unlike other connective tissues, cartilage does not contain blood vessels. The cells that make up cartilage are fed by diffusion, helped by the pumping action generated by compression or flexion. Thus, compared to other connective tissues, cartilage grows and repairs more slowly.
Around the joint is a special lining called the synovial membrane or synovium, which makes a slick, slippery liquid called the synovial fluid. This liquid fills that little space between the bone ends. Together, all these parts make up the joint.
Let’s think about the knee joint. When you’re walking, your knees take turns moving. Say you put your weight on your left leg. The bone ends are pressing toward each other with a great deal of pressure. This pushes synovial fluid out of the cartilage into the synovial space (think pressing down on a porous sponge – the water is pressed out). Then, shift your weight from your left leg back to your right. Now the pressure on your left knee is released. The cartilage in your left knee then “drinks” the synovial fluid back in, just like a sponge would. When you take another step and transfer the weight back onto your left leg, much of the fluid squeezes back out of the cartilage. This squeezing of joint fluid into and out of the cartilage helps it respond to the off-and-on pressure of walking without shattering under the strain. Can you imagine the results if we didn’t have this watery cushion within our joints? With the rough, porous surfaces of the bone ends pitted against each other, bones would grind each other down in no time. Especially when you consider the amount of strain our joints put up with. For instance, did you know that when you run, the pressure on your knees can increase to ten times that of your body weight? That means an average 150 pound person can have up to 1500 pounds of pressure on their knees! That’s a lot of weight!
So when everything within the joint is working properly, you should be pain free with no problems with mobility or range of motion. However, when it’s not working properly, you begin to experience stiffness, pain, inflammation, swelling, or irritation. This is usually diagnosed as arthritis.
Although more than two hundred diseases are classified under the name “arthritis,” most arthritic conditions fall into one of two categories: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These are the diseases I will be dealing with in this article.
Osteoarthritis is by far the more common, afflicting 40 million Americans including 80 percent of people over fifty. With this type of arthritis, the cartilage breaks down, exposing bone ends and allowing them to rub together. The result can be pain, stiffness, loss of movement, and sometimes swelling. Osteoarthritis is most often found in the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, ankles, and spine, but it can also affect the fingers.
Although injury or the normal wear and tear of life often bring on cartilage damage, it can be made much worse by food allergies, poor diet, heavy metal toxicity, and mineral deposits in the joints. For some people, the effects of mental and emotional stress aggravate arthritis pain. Changes in the weather—usually, rain and falling barometric pressure—often cause arthritis flare-ups.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is quite another story. Most experts believe it is caused by an inappropriate immune reaction, in which white blood cells attack the cartilage in the joints. It can even go on to destroy the bones themselves and even the muscles and the skin. It is often exceedingly painful and can cripple its sufferers. The malfunction of the immune system with RA is likely caused by a combination of factors. Food allergies, bacterial or viral infections, stress, excess acid in the body, genes, and the presence of certain antibodies in the blood may all play a role.
While osteoarthritis affects men and women equally, RA appears three times more frequently in women. It affects only 2 to 3 percent of the population and can occur at any age, even in childhood. The course of the disease is difficult to predict. It may disappear a few months after its appearance, or it may grow progressively worse.
Even though the course of disease is different, many of the complementary therapies used for osteoarthritis are also effective in reducing the pain and slowing the spread of rheumatoid arthritis. Underlying factors for both of these conditions may include poor digestive function, hormone imbalance, nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, and lifestyle factors.
Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Symptoms usually come on gradually, progressing as follows:
1. Morning stiffness in the joints. 2. Painful or swollen joints. 3. Restricted range of motion. And finally it can lead to deformity of joints in some cases.
SYMPTOMS OF RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
•Inflammation, pain, tenderness, and discoloration in the joints, usually the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, the fingers, the ankles, or the toes.
•Lumps under the skin at the site of damaged joints
•Deformity of joints in long-term cases
•Fatigue, weight loss, weakness, and occasionally fever.
ROOT CAUSES OF OSTEOARTHRITIS
•Fractures or other injuries, even those that occurred early in life
•A diet high in fats, animal products, and other foods that promote an internal acidic environment
•Excess of body fat, which places extra stress on joints
•Biomechanical imbalance (e.g., poor posture and abnormal foot arch)
ROOT CAUSES OF RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
There is no one specific cause for RA. However, as mentioned before, food allergies, poor diet, heavy metal toxicity, stress, and mineral deposits in the joints seem to have an effect on RA.
An effective diet will go a long way toward controlling arthritis for many people.
1. Flaxseeds or flaxseed oil - Flaxseeds are high in essential fatty acids and have natural anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Fiber-rich foods - Eat lots of fiber in the form of raw vegetables and whole grains. It will help sweep away mineral and acid build-up and keep your digestive system free of harmful bacteria. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower also have natural anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Sulfur-rich foods - Foods high in sulfur will actually help repair damaged cartilage and bone. Try eating some asparagus, cabbage, garlic, or onion every day.
4. Pineapple, whether whole or juiced (and even canned), has an enzyme called bromelain, which has been shown to reduce inflammation.
5. Pure Water - For someone suffering from arthritis, one of the most important things you can do is to drink more water. Since the arthritis pain and stiffness is a direct result of joints not being cushioned well enough, water can give relief by helping to lubricate and provide padding for these areas. Remember, cartilage is 65 percent to 85 percent water. If there is not enough water, the joints can't glide freely as they should. So, an increased water intake can keep the water supply in the joints at a healthy level, helping to reduce pain and inflammation. Also, water helps to flush out uric acid and other toxins. Chronic pain is often an indicator of chronic dehydration. Water will help give the joints the nourishment and lubrication they need for easy and pain-free movement. Try to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces each day.
Food to Avoid
Too much acid in the body causes inflammation, which leads to pain. Avoid acid promoting foods such as: red meat, eggs, saturated fats, oils, fried foods, sugar, dairy products, refined carbohydrates, foods high in gluten (such as breads, pasta, and pastries), alcohol, and caffeine. Although this list seems very long, arthritis sufferers who eliminate these foods often experience great (and sometimes total) relief.
A vegetable juice or water fast can help to reduce joint pain. Lemon and grapefruit juices are especially helpful. Green drinks are also excellent for detoxification.
Many doctors and other experts have noted that emotional stress seems to appear frequently in arthritis sufferers. In addition, arthritis itself can cause great tension, both muscular and emotional, and even depression. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or feel stressed out, try an herbal formula like our Sunny Day to help you calm down and feel at ease. Take some time out of the day to meditate, pray, relax, and unwind.
Try to achieve and maintain normal body weight. Having excess body weight places an added strain on the weight-bearing joints. For some individuals, symptoms disappear completely after weight loss. The arthritis diet mentioned above, along with a moderate exercise program will help promote weight loss.
Arthritis sufferers often cut back on activity, but studies show that moderate exercise actually reduces pain and swelling. Countless studies have shown that exercise can help lubricate and nourish the joints by forcing joint fluid into and out of the cartilage. Under exercised joints don’t get much of this in-and-out action, so cartilage can thin out and become dry. Staying in one place too long can also cause the ligaments to tighten, causing more pain.
While you must avoid joint pounding workouts like jogging or tennis, low- or no-impact exercises like swimming, aqua-aerobics, cycling, and brisk walking are excellent choices. Regular exercise can help with flexibility, strength, and can help with weight loss, reducing the amount of pressure on the joints. If you can, exercising outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine has additional health benefits. Particularly, the fact that sunlight precipitates vitamin D. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium, and regulates how much of the mineral we need, which helps strengthen bones and joints.
During deep sleep, the production of growth hormone is at its peak. Growth hormone speeds the absorption of nutrients and amino acids into your cells and aids the healing of tissues throughout your body. Much of the body’s healing occurs during the nighttime hours. It is very important that you get plenty of rest at night (especially between 8pm-midnight). Make sure and do not rest TOO much. A major mistake with most arthritis sufferers is getting too much rest. Staying in one position for too long can cause more joint stiffness and pain (which is why you usually experience more pain/stiffness first thing in the morning upon arising).
Soak in a hot bath with mineral salts or clay for at least twenty minutes. The warm water will help to relax tense muscles and can help relieve stress. You’ll also eliminate toxins through sweat, and the salts or clay will help replenish the body’s mineral stores.
A light drainage massage of the areas surrounding an arthritic joint will reduce the build-up of lymphatic fluid. Stress and tension can trigger painful episodes, especially for sufferers of RA. Regular massage will relax the body and the mind. It will also loosen muscles that have tightened in reaction to pain.
A poultice of green clay (with or without Swedish bitters mixed in) can be applied to swollen sore areas for relief of pain and for increased healing time. Many people especially find relief when applying to knees, hips, hands, and wrists. Can be applied to any area, with special caution used when applying it to the spinal area.
What about Conventional medications?
There are five main classes of conventional arthritis medications, with 2 being the most prescribed:
1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs help relieve pain and reduce inflammation by interfering with an enzyme called COX (cyclooxygenase). Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Anaprox, Feldene, Tolectin are examples of some, however they also come with a long list of serious side effects. Not to mention that they can cause an inability to form healthy cartilage – which is particularly bad for arthritis suffers.
2. Corticosteroids: These are man-made versions of naturally occurring hormones in the body that help quell inflammation. Although they’re a powerful anti-inflammatory, they can also have powerful side effects, including elevated blood pressure, stomach ulcers, thinning of the bones and skin, and increased risk of infection.
I have found that many patients have been able to use diet, exercise, stress relief, and the other therapies listed above, along with a few natural herbal supplements to drastically reduce arthritis pain and inflammation. Listed below are some of the products that have proved successful for arthritis sufferers.
MSM – MSM has natural anti-inflammatory benefits and contains the mineral sulfur, an integral component of cartilage.
Mega Multi – Our multivitamin formula is rich in a blend of antioxidants and nutrients, which will help prevent joint tissue destruction.
Arthrigone – Our powerful arthritis formula is rich in vitamins, nutrients, and herbs that help to reduce pain, improve range of motion, while lubricating and healing the joints and surrounding tissues.
Pain Eraser – This product contains a synergistic blend of herbs that help to relieve pain and inflammation. It can be taken as needed for pain.
Evening Primrose Oil – EPO contains the essential fatty acid GLA, which reduces joint inflammation and pain. Also helps to heal irritation of the skin associated with RA.
E-Complex – Reduces inflammation, tension, pain, and helps improve coordination.
Living Green Energy – Helps to detoxify the body and reduce acid buildup, which causes inflammation and pain in the joints.
Comfort Cream – A powerful herbal blend, Comfort cream helps to reduce inflammation and pain while healing the underlying tissues, joints, and bones. Some people experience relief in as little as 20 minutes.