You might think of arthritis as a problem for older folks, but I was diagnosed with arthritis in my knees at the ripe age of 14.
Far from being isolated to nursing homes, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in U.S. adults of all ages. Doctors treat some form of arthritis in roughly 22.7% of U.S. adults (that’s 54.4 million people) each year. Arthritis interferes with productivity in 1 in 25 adults younger than 65, and just under half of adults with arthritis have activity limitations because of it.
That’s a huge problem.
The good news is, arthritis is oftentimes due to inflammation, which means there are some natural ways to combat the pain. Read on for ways to zero in on the cause of your arthritis and keep your joints feeling young.
Types and symptoms of arthritis
There are over 100 types of arthritis and related diseases that cause joint pain. The most common types of arthritis are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
Think of osteoarthritis as mechanical wear and tear. Most commonly, things like obesity, injury, overuse (think runners’ knees and swimmers’ shoulders), and tissue breakdown from old age cause osteoarthritis.
Even though the medical community views osteoarthritis as a physical breakdown from pressure and rubbing, the fact that it appears in joints that don’t bear weight, like the hands, suggests there’s an inflammation component as well.
Symptoms: Symptoms range from stiff joints after being still, to painful and swollen joints from moving too much.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where your body attacks the connective tissue in your joints. It can affect other organ systems as well, and flare-ups often come with a low fever and fatigue.
Like other autoimmune conditions, there are genes that make you more likely to develop this one. Having these markers doesn’t mean you’re destined for a life of stiffness and mobility problems. Diet and environmental factors can turn those genes on or off.
Symptoms: Symptoms come and go, but damage from flare-ups have a compounded effect. After repeated flares, broken down tissues start to limit range of motion and create lasting pain.
Psoriatic arthritis is another autoimmune condition, meaning there’s a genetic component to getting this one. It comes along with psoriasis, an itchy, stinging, flaking rash.
Symptoms: Symptoms are similar to those of osteoarthritis – stiffness, pain, and swelling in the joints. With psoriatic arthritis, joint pain flares up alongside skin rashes.
If you go to your doctor with any combination of arthritis pain, sleep problems, mood changes and brain fog, you might walk out with a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
Diagnosis and treatment of fibromyalgia are controversial. First off, it’s not technically considered “true” arthritis because there’s usually no inflammation in the joints, muscles, or tissues.
But the pain is real. Brains scans show that pain perception literally intensifies in fibromyalgia patients. That’s the medical mystery – why there’s improper pain processing in the nervous system in the first place. It could be an injury or infection in the central nervous system, but there’s a lot we still don’t know.
Symptoms: Chronic and widespread pain and tenderness in the joints and other tissues, usually paired with debilitating fatigue and other physical and cognitive issues.
Gout most commonly shows up in the big toe before affecting other areas, but it can wreak havoc in any of your joints. The pain is fierce and lasts a few days to a week or more.
Gout shows up when your body makes uric acid (one of your body’s waste products) faster than you can excrete it. Extra uric acid forms crystals that embed in your joints. They’re sharp and they get stuck in connective tissue and under your skin This hurts as much as you would think sharp things stuck in your joints would hurt.
Doctors point to excess protein and red meat as the cause, but I’ve helped friends get rid of gout by reducing sugar. Especially fructose. It works better than reducing protein.
Symptoms: Pain and tenderness in the joint, usually with some visible swelling.
7 ways to battle arthritis naturally
Switch to good salt
Table salt is made by chemical processing and contains fillers to prevent clumping. The sodium isn’t as much of a concern as the fillers are. The anti-caking action behaves the same way in your body. It keeps the salt in your bloodstream, rendering it unavailable for your body to use to balance electrolytes. Excess sodium in the bloodstream can cause rheumatism, arthritis, and gout, in addition to problems outside the musculoskeletal system like kidney stones and gallstones.
Oh, and the anti-caking agents often contain aluminum. Don’t season your food with heavy metals.
Himalayan pink salt balances your minerals and electrolytes without aluminum and without fillers that cause arthritis and related problems.
Limit your lectins
If your joints hurt and you don’t know why you might be lectin sensitive.
Lectins are compounds that plants make to keep people and animals from eating them. Animal products contain lectins too, and the most allergenic foods – dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish – have a high lectin content.
Lectins make you feel anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to violently ill, depending on the type of lectin, how much is in the plant, and how sensitive you are. Ricin is a chemical derived from the lectin-rich seeds of the castor plant. It’s used in biological weapons. So, there’s that. ;p
Lectins trigger autoimmune reactions and inflammation in people who are sensitive or have autoimmune conditions. That’s why I avoid nightshades, vegetables higher on the lectin spectrum. If you suffer from rheumatoid, I highly recommend taking tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers out of your diet.
If you’re wondering whether lectins affect you, avoid the top eight allergens (dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat), legumes, and nightshades for three weeks, then add them back in and see how you feel. If you have a reaction, you need to see where your limits are. Super sensitive people should avoid them completely. Others feel fine if they peel the vegetables and remove the seeds.
Fix your gut
Your gut houses both friendly and “bad” bacteria. The bad bacteria has its place and will always be there. The problem arises when the balance tips in the bad guys’ direction.
A healthy gut balances the ecosystem of microorganisms in your digestive tract to defend against overgrowth of bad bugs.
When unfriendly bacteria, yeasts, and parasites take over, they poke holes in the intestinal barrier to help them take root stay a little longer. The holes allow undigested food particles and disease pathogens to cross from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. This is the basis behind leaky gut.
Leaky gut is a major source of autoimmune disease, because your immune system springs into action from the food particles and germs exiting the digestive tract and floating around the bloodstream. Once autoimmune disease develops, the immune response trips early and often because it marks everything as an invader.
Unfriendly organisms multiply quickly when there’s sugar available, and certain species produce uric acid as they metabolize it (along with other pesky by-products). If your gut bacteria produce uric acid faster than you eliminate it, you end up with gout–uric acid crystal deposits throughout the body.
The arthritis – gut health connection goes beyond uric acid production and gout. People with psoriatic arthritis had less biodiversity in the gut, which means a few types of microorganisms were taking over and causing imbalances. A diverse population of gut microbes means they keep each other in check.
Living in a moldy house and eating crappy food wrecked my gut and contributed to a host of autoimmune conditions and cognitive disorders. To heal your gut once and for all, consult your friendly functional medicine doctor to determine the root cause and come up with a treatment plan designed for you. Or you can get started here.
Sugar plays a well-documented role in arthritis. Researchers often study people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages because it’s a convenient way to look at elevated sugar intake. Here are some effects that sugary drinks have on arthritis:
- Consuming sugar sweetened beverages significantly increased the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Sugary soft drinks increased uric acid levels in the blood which causes gout if it accumulates faster than you can eliminate it.
- Sugar sweetened beverages increased general inflammation which can flare up the arthritis you already have.
If you’re experiencing symptoms or arthritis runs in your family, kick your sugar habit immediately if you haven’t already. Your joints will thank you.
Add collagen to your diet
A growing body of research supports the idea that collagen hydrolysate (powdered enzyme-processed collagen) improves various types of arthritis safely. Study participants who took collagen supplements showed improved rheumatoid arthritis according to the American College of Rheumatology’s scoring system, and reduced joint tenderness and swelling. Athletes who supplemented collagen over a 24 week period reduced athletic performance limitations, and osteoarthritis patients who supplemented collagen with or without physical therapy did better than patients who underwent only physical therapy with no collagen.
Grass-fed collagen mixes easily into any hot or cold liquid, making it easy to incorporate into your day. I mix it in my Bulletproof Coffee when I’m not using the Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting protocol or add it to my anti-inflammatory turmeric latte at night.
Turmeric for arthritis
Turmeric isn’t a fleeting wellness trend. It’s been used for thousands of years as a powerful natural medicine. It’s anti-inflammatory and scientists were able to demonstrate its protective effect against rheumatoid arthritis flares. Turmeric is another easy-to-take, low-risk supplement that might be the key to keeping your inflammation down.
Cool inflammation with cryotherapy
Professional athletes have been using cryotherapy to reduce soreness and inflammation for decades. Relief is no longer a privilege for elite athletes, though. Cryotherapy is reaching the mainstream, with cryochambers popping up nationwide. You’re probably within driving distance of a facility.
There’s enough evidence that cryotherapy helps arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, that it should become standard treatment protocol. Cryotherapy works because it stimulates norepinephrine, an anti-inflammatory neurotransmitter that reduces injury pain. Cryotherapy also takes the edge off of intense physical therapy sessions for fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, and osteoarthritis, which makes them more effective.
Don’t have a cryochamber in your area? You’ll get a noticeable benefit from switching the shower to cold for 1-5 minutes.
Arthritis isn’t a reason to give up. You have control over a lot of the factors that contribute to inflammation. Your genetics play a role in whether or not you’re more prone to arthritis, but sometimes your choices determine whether or not those genes turn on or off. As with most things, self-experimentation goes a long way.
This is a big one. I’d love to hear how you mitigate inflammation and battle arthritis pain. Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below.