Greetings friends. Arthritis is a common condition I come across in my daily work often. Arthritis is often thought of as a single disease but it is in fact an umbrella term for more than 100 medical conditions that affect the musculo-skeletal system, specifically joints where two or more bones meet and inflammation is present. So it is in fact more simply put inflammation of the joints. Arthritis-related problems include pain, stiffness, inflammation and damage to joint cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones, enabling them to move against each another) and surrounding structures. This can result in joint weakness, instability and deformities that can interfere with the most basic daily tasks such as walking, driving a car and preparing food.
The most common forms of arthritis are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Juvenile arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
What causes arthritis?
In order to better understand what is going on when a person suffers from some form of arthritis, let us look at how a joint works.
Basically, a joint is where one bone moves on another bone. Ligaments hold the two bones together. The ligaments are like elastic bands, while they keep the bones in place your muscles relax or contract to make the joint move.
Cartilage covers the bone surface to stop the two bones from rubbing directly against each other. The covering of cartilage allows the joint to work smoothly and painlessly. A capsule surrounds the joint. The space within the joint – the joint cavity – has synovial fluid. Synovial fluid nourishes the joint and the cartilage. The synovial fluid is produced by the synovium (synovial membrane) which lines the joint cavity. If you have arthritis something goes wrong with the joint(s). What goes wrong depends on what type of arthritis you have. It could be that the cartilage is wearing away, a lack of fluid, autoimmunity (your body attacking itself), infection, or a combination of many factors. Inflammation from poor lifestyle habits and diet resulting in an acidic pH is also to blame in many cases.
Does cracking knuckles cause arthritis?
Cracking the knuckles, also known as “popping”, is a kind of joint manipulation that produces a cracking sound. Cracking one’s knuckles is a deliberate action.
In fact, humans are able to crack several joints, including the ankles, shoulders, fe et, jaws, toes, neck and back vertebrae, elbows, wrists and hips.
Two studies showed that chronic knuckle cracking does not appear to increase the risk of hand osteoarthritis, but may reduce the strength of your grip. Dr. Donald Unger won the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine after spending 60 years cracking the knuckles on his left hand but not his right. He reported that neither hand had arthritis after all that time, or other problems.
The pH Connection
When the body is too acidic resulting from an intake of acid forming foods, mucus forming, high fat foods, and toxic food residues, disease and infections are encouraged. This is especially true in cases of arthritis and rheumatic situations. Most foods are alkaline by nature, but often the more processed the foods are the more acidic they become. It is important to balance each meal with a ratio of 75% alkaline to 25% acidity in order to maintain better health. Perfect body pH is 6.4, above is alkaline and below is acidic. It is important that your daily dietary intake of food naturally balances your body pH. Balancing the body’s pH is achieved by avoiding foods that create acidic conditions in the body, which can help lessen pain and inflammation. Click here to read about the best anti-inflammatory foods for helping to balance your pH. As well here is a chart of acid/alkaline foods that you can download > Acid Alkaline Food Chart.
Herbs and Supplements That Help Arthritis
- Burdock Root (Arctium lappa or Arcticum minus): One of the greatest things you can do for pain, joint or otherwise, is increase your intake of essential fatty acids. Burdock contains fatty oils which (along with its sterols and tannins) contribute to burdock’s reputation as an anti-inflammatory. You can eat burdock root in stir-fries (very popular in Asian cuisine, by the way), make a decoction (To do so: chop 2 tablespoons of fresh burdock root—if you do not have the fresh root available you may use 2 teaspoons of dried root as an alternative. Add the root to the boiling water and allow to simmer for 10 minutes then turn off the heat. Strain and drink while still warm—3-4 cups a day is ideal), or take the herb in capsule form (follow dosage directions, but remember, these are for a 150lb adult—calculate the appropriate dose using your own weight).
- Flax ( Linum usitatissimum): Flaxseed is one of the best vegan sources of Omega-3 (ALA), which is so important to a strong immune system and for fighting inflammation (the vegan bit is important because animal fats often lead to inflammation in arthritis sufferers). Try to include two tablespoons of flaxseeds or flaxseed oil in your daily diet. Note: do not heat or cook seeds or oil. Also, if you suffer from a digestive condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), use the oil rather than the seeds—they could irritate your condition.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Turmeric is an extremely effective anti-inflammatory herb, and thus an effective pain reliever. It contains at least two chemicals (curcumin and curcuminoids) which decrease inflammation (and are very much like the oft-prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs). Incidentally, this anti-inflammatory effect is also why turmeric is often recommended for treatment of cancer, cataracts and Alzheimer’s. While you can totally add this spice to your daily diet, you will need to take turmeric in supplement form in order to experience the full medicinal benefits. When cooking, try adding black pepper or dried ginger to help activate turmeric. The herb can also be applied topically to relieve pain.
- Nettles (Urtica dioica): Yup. If you’ve read my other articles, then you know that nettles is an herb with incredible for pretty much anything. Nettles are insanely good for you, containing protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, beta-carotene, along with vitamins A,C, D, and B complex, all in a form that is easy for the body to use. Stinging nettle is a wicked herb for those with all types of arthritis and gout. Its anti-inflammatory amazing-ness combined with its minerals (boron, calcium, magnesium and silicon) ease pain while helping to build strong bones. While NSAIDs are often a necessary evil for most with arthritis, using nettle may help you to decrease the amount you need to take. (Herbalists’ disclaimer: ALWAYS discuss herbal supplementation and prescription decreases with your physician). Nettle leaf tea (a cup or more daily) relieves and prevents water retention and inflammation and nourishes the kidneys and adrenals
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Licorice acts much like your body’s own natural corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation). Licorice decreases free radicals at the site of inflammation and inhibits the enzyme production that’s involved in the inflammatory process. Glycyrrhizin is the component in licorice which blocks and relieves inflammation. It also supports the body’s release of cortisol (which suppresses the immune system, easing the pain and occurrence of arthritis), but it also inhibits some of the side effects of cortisol (such as adrenal fatigue and anxiety). Use in supplement form or as a tea.
Nutritional Supplements That Help Arthritis
There are many variations out there that claim to be able to help. Bottom line is there is some main basics to look for in any formulation.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Fatty acids are a family of special fats that the body needs but can’t make for itself, so you have to get them from food such as flax seed oils, nut oil krill oil etc. Once in the body, they collect in cells, where they help form hormone-like substances, called leukotrienes, that put the brakes on inflammation — a root cause of rheumatoid and, to a lesser extent, osteoarthritis. More than a dozen reliable studies suggest that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids can help quell symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, even if the fats don’t slow progression of the disease.
- Vitamin C – It’s one of the most familiar of all nutrients, but vitamin C’s role in joint health tends to be under appreciated. Vitamin C not only helps produce collagen, a major component of joints, but sweeps the body of destructive molecular byproducts known as free radicals, which are destructive to joints. Without vitamin C and other so-called antioxidant nutrients, free-radical damage to joints would be much worse.
- Vitamin D – You can get vitamin D just from standing in the sun. That’s because ultraviolet light converts precursors of the vitamin in the body into a usable form. Many people with arthritis are D-deficient. Studies find that getting more vitamin D protects joints from osteoarthritis damage, probably because this nutrient is vital to the health of bones that support and underlie joints. Vitamin D also appears to play a role in production of collagen in joints themselves.
- Vitamin E – Like vitamin C, this is an antioxidant vitamin that protects the body — including the joints — from the ravages of free radicals. Some of the same research showing that other nutrients protect against arthritis also indicates that vitamin E can help prevent joints from becoming worse, though E’s effects appear more limited than those of vitamins C and D.
- Vitamin B Group – As cousin chemicals in the B-vitamin family of nutrients, vitamin B6 and folate are also among the nutrients most likely to be lacking in people with arthritis. Part of this is due to deficiencies common population-wide — for example, one study found 90 percent of women don’t get enough B6 in their diet. But there’s also evidence that the inflammation process eats up these B vitamins especially fast in people with rheumatoid arthritis — bad news for a variety of bodily functions, including the manufacturing of protein, the building block for tissues such as cartilage.
- Bromelains – Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes that digest protein (proteolytic) that are found in pineapples (Ananas comosus). Pineapple has been used for centuries in Central and South America to treat indigestion and reduce inflammation
- Calcium – The issue with calcium, as with vitamin D, is bone health. Calcium has obvious importance to bones — more than 90 percent of the body’s stores are contained in the skeleton and teeth. Getting too little calcium raises the risk of osteoporosis, a brittle-bone condition that accelerates if you have rheumatoid arthritis.
- Glucosamine & Chondroitin – Many people with osteoarthritis try glucosamine, sometimes combined with chondroitin. Joint cartilage normally contains glucosamine and chondroitin compounds, and it’s thought that taking supplements of these natural ingredients may help to improve the health of damaged cartilage.Research suggests that glucosamine sulphate is more likely to be beneficial than glucosamine hydrochloride.
The main thing to remember when it comes to arthritis , aside from herbal medicine and dietary supplement protocols given by a naturopath or herbalist, the best treatment for arthritis is a diet filled with fresh produce, essential fatty acids, and fiber (and reducing or eliminating foods that cause an inflammatory response such as fried foods, animal fats, dairy, and anything else which might cause an allergy sensitivity as this will exacerbate inflammatory responses). Yoga (especially Yin Yoga) and gentle stretching exercise go a long way toward arthritis prevention and pain relief by opening joints, and encouraging the distribution of lubricating synovial fluid.
Hope this helps you out. Until next time, be well.
Craig Hitchens – MST & Holistic Naturopath
Alternative & Natural Health Disclaimer:
The information contained in this article is accurate at the time of posting but may change thereafter. The information provided on the various natural health subjects from this website of www.craighitchenstherapies.com is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as any form of medical advice. The information in the article this disclaimer is linked from is not meant to treat, diagnose, prescribe or cure any ailment. Always check with your health professional before taking any products or following any advice that you believe may conflict with other forms of health care. Always consult your health care professional before you start, stop or change anything that has been previously prescribed. Certain herbs and holistic remedies are unsuitable to take if you are pregnant or nursing and must always be cleared by your health professional before use.