For people suffering with arthritis it is very difficult to enjoy day to day existence.
Not being comfortable within one’s own body is a condition that spills over into all areas of mental and physical health.
There is hope. Functional Diagnostic Medicine’s approach towards arthritis does not consist of a prescription pad and a 15-minute appointment…
You don’t develop arthritis because you didn’t take enough arthritis drugs!
While we tend to think of arthritis as one disease, it is really many different conditions: there is osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gouty arthritis, infectious arthritis and others.
Whatever the cause or name of the arthritis, the feature that unites all of these types of arthritis is joint inflammation that leads to eventual joint destruction. People with arthritis are usually in pain and as the disease progresses the pain increases – often making it hard to complete simple daily tasks. Arthritis has an enormous impact on quality of life. A prolonged course of arthritis may result in extended periods of pain and suffering, reduced sleep, depression and unemployment. Uncovering the underlying causes and type of the disease is important to finding a solution to reducing the pain and discomfort.
OA or RA?
Between the two, osteoarthritis (abbreviated as OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) account for the majority of cases of arthritis. The two have many differences, but are also similar. A doctor can help you determine which one you have, but be cautious and seek more than one opinion. Many mainstream medical doctors, especially those embedded in huge networks with very little time with each patient, will diagnose you with a disease like RA without confirming data! These doctors are eager to push heavy drugs and fit you into their little diagnostic box with no consideration for the true underlying issues, like autoimmunity, gut health, and hormones.
Osteoarthritis: Also known as degenerative joint disease or DJD, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder; it is characterized by cartilage destruction and narrowing in the joint space. Medical texts tend to describe osteoarthritis as ubiquitous in the elderly (meaning we all get it) but it doesn’t have to be that way. Osteoarthritis is often slow to develop and usually affects the weight bearing joints of the hips, knees and spine, although any joint can be involved. The pain of osteoarthritis is usually worse after using the joint for a while and is relieved by rest. Morning stiffness is common, but usually gets better with movement. As the disease progresses joint range of motion is lost, tenderness, and a grating sensation are late signs of the disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Joint pain is also the major symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, though the joints affected are typically the hands, wrists, knees and feet. What makes rheumatoid arthritis unique is that it usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body (both wrists, both knees…). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease (see below) and this accounts for the reason why joints often feel warm and appear swollen. There is morning pain and joint stiffness with rheumatoid arthritis, but it doesn’t get better with rest. People with rheumatoid arthritis often have other symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, weakness and sometimes fever.
Sadly, conventional medical treatments tend to have destructive side effects and are extremely expensive. The conventional approach is not to identify and resolve the causes of arthritis, but only to mask the symptoms. On a brighter note, RA symptoms have been reduced if not eliminated by integrative approaches that incorporate such actions as diet changes, hormone balancing, and structural work (notably atlas adjustments to free up the nervous system), with occasional low doses of drugs proven to have virtually no side effects (such as low dose naltrexone). Acupuncture is another treatment modality that is very helpful.
Autoimmunity occurs when the body’s immune system starts attacking the body as if it were a foreign invader. Why the body starts attacking itself is a bit of a mystery, but the resulting joint destruction is hard to stop once this process has started. While there is no doubt that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, some scientists question if osteoarthritis may also be an autoimmune condition.1
Inflammation: A Body out of Control
Inflammation is at the root of all types of arthritis. It is the body’s way of trying to rid itself of something harmful (like an infection) and is known by its symptoms: heat, redness, swelling and pain. Inflammation severs a purpose: without it we would never recover from wounds or infections. While inflammation plays a critical role in the body, it sometimes becomes out of control and can do more damage than good.
Inflammation begins in the cells of our bodies (cells such as macrophages, Kuppfer cells, dendrites and others). These cells release chemicals called inflammatory mediators (such as histamine, leukotrienes, prostaglandins, complement components, kinins, antibodies, interleukins and others). These inflammatory mediators increase permeability of blood vessels (which accounts for the redness and swelling) and attract other components of our immune system, such as white blood cells.
There are many prescription and non-prescription medications that calm inflammation by reducing the inflammatory mediators. These medications, such as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs: Aspirin, Ibuprofen) and cyclooxygenase inhibitors (COX2: Naproxen), block or interfere with the production of inflammatory mediators. While these medications might seem like a good thing because they reduce inflammation and pain, they are also fraught with side-effects (such as stomach bleeding and kidney and liver damage) that often do more harm than good.2
There are often natural remedies that can reduce inflammatory mediators and do a much better job, without the side-effects.
What to do about Arthritis
The first thing you have to do is discover what type of arthritis you have. This takes a trip to the doctor and usually some laboratory tests. After that, you have many options.
Medical Treatment and Side Effects
- Anti-inflammatories: These include the NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors. Examples are ibuprofen, aspirin and Naproxen. Side effects: Include gastric bleeding, kidney, heart (COX-2 inhibitors are especially hard on the heart) and liver damage.
- Methotrexate: This is traditionally a chemotherapy agent, but is sometimes used in arthritis. Side effects include: Nausea, liver function abnormalities, mouth sores, rash, diarrhea, blood count abnormalities, lung problems, cough, shortness of breath, hair loss, sun sensitivity.
- Cortisone: This is a strong anti-inflammatory hormone; it is usually only used for short periods of time and has many side effects. It is often prescribed without any consideration of the damaging effects on the liver and HPA glands.
- Surgery: Joint replacement is an option, but is usually postponed and used as a last resort.
Natural Support for Arthritis
Many integrative health professionals note a strong relationship between diet and arthritis. This is especially true for rheumatoid arthritis. A vegetarian diet or even fasting has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise has also been shown to be very helpful. Other natural options include:
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin Sulfate: These two components of healthy joints have been shown in many research studies to be very effective for arthritic pain and even help joints repair themselves.5
- Anti-inflammatories: There are many natural anti-inflammatories, including Boswellia6, Turmeric7, Ginger8 and others.
- Cayenne: Cayenne, when applied topically works great for arthritic pain.
- Fish Oil: Both EPA and DHA have been shown to help with arthritic conditions and works by reducing inflammation.9
- HPA Hormone Balancing: When the HPA glands are performing at their best, the inflammation is controlled and autoimmunity-related symptoms are reduced. With saliva based lab tests that measure cortisol and DHEA patterns, natural therapies for hormone balance can be developed.