A Nutritional Approach to Arthritis
BY CAROL B. BLAIR, BS, DIHOM
ARTHRITIS is a group of degenerative disorders that now encompasses as many as 100 different forms, many of which are in the auto-immune category, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Let's start with some general information that affects everyone with arthritis, regardless of its form, and that is the diet. The three most prominent commonalties among individuals suffering from arthritis are inferior digestion, food sensitivities, and poor acid/alkaline balance.
Digestive enzymes and sometimes hydrochloric acid (HCl) are needed to improve digestion. They must be taken with every meal. You can ingest the highest quality supplements on the market or consume the best quality foods available, but if they are not digested, your condition will not improve considerably. Improper digestion may also lead to constipation, which means toxins are being reabsorbed into the system. A high fiber diet and 6-8 glasses of pure water daily will also improve bowel status.
Arthritis and Acidity
Most arthritic individuals tend to be very acidic. When the urine is acidic, the body is breaking down instead of building up which equates to a higher pain level. The first step to alkalinize the body is to eliminate or reduce coffee consumption and replace it with green tea. Coffee is very acidic whereas green tea is alkalinizing. Other common foods that are acidic to the body include sugar, ice cream, cocoa, white flour, tomatoes, beef and pork. Include some of the most alkalinizing foods such as lentils, sweet potatoes, pumpkin seeds, onions, garlic, raspberries, watermelon, pineapple, and nectarines. A quarter of a lemon or lime squeezed in water twice a day or one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar is very helpful for those who tolerate it. As a general rule, most vegetables are alkalinizing while most protein foods are acidifying. Balance is the key with three servings of alkalinizing foods to one serving of protein foods. Most spices such as cinnamon and ginger are helpful, and coral calcium may be beneficial as well. Applying these principles will also control the weight, which will in turn reduce the stress on the weight-bearing joints.
Food sensitivities can be the cause of much arthritic pain, and the foods desired the most are usually the ones to which we are sensitive. The top food allergens include sugar, wheat, dairy, chocolate, soy, oranges, eggs, corn, coffee and nuts. Further, for individuals with arthritis, the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco) may be the culprits. To determine if you are reacting to a food, select a food such as oranges (remember that morning orange juice) and remove it completely from the diet for a week. On day 8, have a large orange, and look for any reactions. Typically, symptoms will appear within 24 hours. Do you have more pain, swelling, constipation, and diarrhea, experience a headache or feel very fatigued? Keep a log and document the food and the symptoms. If you are sensitive to a food, there are several approaches to take. Rotating that food in the diet by only consuming it once every 4 days may be helpful. If that doesn't work, eliminate it completely for 6 weeks to 6 months, then try rotating it again. Most individuals are amazed at how much this reduces pain and improves their condition.
Inflammation is the body's normal response to aid in the removal of toxins, to fight invading organisms and remove damaged cells. However, when the inflammatory process becomes chronic, healthy tissue can be damaged causing progressive destruction. Over the counter and prescription drugs can actually accelerate the disease progression by breaking down cartilage in the joints, but there are safe ways to manage pain.
The wrong kinds of fats in the diet can create an imbalance leading to the inflammatory process. More essential fatty acids (EFA) are needed from foods such as flax seeds, salmon, cod and other fish to supply omega 3 fatty acids as well as from raw nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds which provide more omega 6 fatty acids. Hydrogenated fats, fried foods and saturated fats need to be reduced as they compete with EFAs and skew the balance. Fish oil capsules, 2-3 grams daily with food, will also help reduce inflammation.
Bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme derived from pineapple, has been used successfully for a wide variety of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Studies indicate that bromelain inhibits the production of proinflammatory prostaglandins while simultaneously inducing favorable (non-inflammatory) prostaglandins. The result is reduced inflammation and swelling with less pain. Since bromelain is an enzyme, it must be taken on an empty stomach; otherwise it will simply digest food.
Quercetin, a potent flavonoid, found naturally in apples, onions and their skins, beans, broccoli, summer squash and green tea also helps to quell inflammation. As an added bonus, it is a natural anti-histamine and is, therefore, an asset to those suffering with food or airborne allergies. Further, quercetin is important for those suffering from gout as it inhibits the enzyme that causes gout. Many individuals have been able to successfully control their gout with this supplement, an alkalinizing diet and generous servings of black cherries. The typical dosage of quercetin is up to 1000 mg. per day divided into 2 to 4 doses. Bromelain enhances the absorption of quercetin.
Glucosamine sulfate has become one of the most popular remedies for osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is a substance found naturally in the joints. However, as we age and especially without the proper nutrients, the body may produce fewer of the biochemicals necessary to make it. Glucosamine has been extensively studied both in Europe and in the United States. It is very important in slowing or halting the disease progression as it can actually help rebuild cartilage in the joints. Although fewer studies have been done with Collagen Type II, a product derived from chicken cartilage, it appears to have similar effects. Harvard completed at least one study showing beneficial results with Collagen Type II.
MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), the essential mineral, sulfur, is another important antiinflammatory and pain reliever. Since sulfur is the fourth most common element in our bodies, it obviously has many functions. It often helps decrease joint and muscle pain, reduces allergies, promotes better bowel health and nourishes the skin and hair. The typical dosage is 1,500 to 2,000 mg. daily, but since it detoxifies on the cellular level, start slowly.
Ginger plays an important role as an inhibitor of the pro-inflammatory COX-2 enzyme much like the prescription medications, Celebrex and Vioxx. Unlike the drugs, however, ginger does not break down the cartilage in the joints, nor does it interfere with the beneficial COX-1 enzyme. It also aids digestion.
Bitter greens such as dandelions help to cleanse the liver and lower uric acid levels. Dandelion greens may be used in salads; liver herbs are also available in capsule or tincture form. Other beneficial herbs include boswellia, willow bark, and turmeric as well as the marine animal, sea cucumber, all of which help to reduce pain and inflammation. A synergistic combination of these may provide even better results.
Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E and selenium will also help to normalize the inflammatory process. Selenium has been found to be low in many individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Antioxidants help reduce free radicals that damage cells, and they are, therefore, useful in almost every disease because they help repair cells and promote regrowth of healthy cells.
Other important antioxidants include OPC's (oliogmeric proanthocyanidins) commonly found in plants such as blueberries, bilberries, cranberries, barley, apples and rhubarb. Commercially they are typically derived from grape seeds, pine bark (pycnogenol), and red wine, which are three of the richest sources. OPC's are some of the strongest antioxidants with grape seed being one of my favorites. OPC's are used extensively in Europe and studies show them to be safe and effective.
In the past, it was thought that autoimmune disorders were caused by an overactive immune system but in recent years, it has been learned that only certain components of the immune system are overactive while other components are underactive. Plant sterols are excellent for balancing the immune system and are, therefore, appropriate in autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Sterols and sterolins are plant fats and since most plants are typically low in fat, they are not prevalent in large amounts in the diet. Ground flaxseeds are a fairly good source of sterols. However, once sterols become deficient, supplements may be necessary to correct the deficiency but should not be taken simultaneously with cortisone drugs which reduce immune function. Sterols are designed to upregulate the underactive component of the immune system and downregulate the overactive component, and would therefore conflict with cortisone-type drugs. OPC's and Reishi mushrooms are also useful in autoimmune diseases.
The beneficial effect of homeopathic remedies should not be overlooked in arthritic conditions. Homeopathy is FDA approved because it is harmless and for those of you who have traveled abroad, you are probably aware that it is widely used in Europe. Homeopathic remedies also won't interfere with other medications making them ideal home therapies.
Bear in mind that most forms of arthritis are degenerative disorders, and if the diet is not corrected, only limited progress will be made. Further, always check with your physician before starting any new supplements. For instance, fish oil, vitamin E, ginger, and bromelain are blood thinners and you must work with your doctor to reduce blood-thinning drugs while slowly adding these supplements to the diet. The information presented here is only the beginning in terms of what can be done naturally to help with the various forms of arthritis. Learn all you can about your particular disorder, and be proactive! The information presented in this article is for information purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.