Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the entire body, including the synovial membranes in the joints. The joints of the hands, feet, wrists and knees are often involved. Many categories fall under the umbrella of arthritis.
The categories are:
1. Soft tissue rheumatism. There are around 200 different syndromes that fall into this category, e.g., carpel tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, fibrositis, tennis elbow
2. Chronic inflammatory arthropathy, e.g., ankylosing sponylitis, psoriatic arthritis
3. Degenerative arthropathy, e.g., osteoarthritis
4. Crystal induced arthropathy, e.g., gout
5. Connective tissue disease, e.g., scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), vasculitis
6. Infection-related arthropathy eg Reiter’s syndrome
7. Childhood arthropathy
The main signs and symptoms are:
1. PAIN, which can be very severe indeed
2. Stiffness, leading to loss of movement, deformity of the joint and tenderness of the join
3. Loss of function – abnormal movement of the joint, and crepitus, (a feeling or sound of grating) i.e., joint on joint
4. Possible fever, fatigue and stiffness for more than one hour after waking
5. Rheumatoid factor is found to be positive in the blood of around 70% of cases
If there is one joint involved it is called mono-articular arthritis, if two to four joints then it is oligo-articular arthritis, and if more than four joint then it is classified as poly-articular arthritis.
The onset of Rheumatoid arthritis is usually between 20-40 years of age, though can be any age. It affects 1-3% of people, with the figures increasing due to our aging population. The gender ratio of females:males is 3:1. Orthodox medical treatment consists of anti-inflammatory medication, some of which have been shown to increase homocysteine levels, a marker for other disease processes, such as cardiovascular disease.
Physical therapy is also recommended, including physical exercise, heat, cold, massage and diathermy. There is a multi-million dollar industry built around arthritic pain.
Septic Foci theory
The Septic Foci (‘poisonous site’) theory puts forward the idea that joint tissues are susceptible to the influence of certain toxins. These toxins are derived from certain poisonous sites or where there has been previous pain or disorder in the body.
The sites listed are: Teeth and gums, sinuses, lungs liver, appendix, pelvis, prostate and bladder. Infection from septic tonsils was also postulated as a predisposing factor for arthritis. Toxins were said to travel via the lymphatic system and settle in the joints. In addition, infection by endotoxins and bacteria from the colon appear in some cases to be a possible explanation for the development of arthritis. The development is more likely to occur with the presence of chronic constipation, and the existence of diverticuli in the colon favours infection.
This theory is over 60 years old, but as progression is made towards whole person healing rather than symptomatic relief, it is apparent that this theory does have some validity.
Long-term states of dis-ease in the body will eventually have various sequelae; so it is imperative to look at every body system individually and then collectively to ensure we have optimal levels of health.
Treatment may include some of the following measures:
1. Raw carrot, celery and beetroot juice. This is easily accessible – juice bars are springing up at every shopping centre. Alternatively, buy a juice extractor and make a juice yourself. It would be beneficial to have one of these juices daily
2. Herbal teas rather than tea and coffee. Alfalfa tea has been noted in the literature as being anti-arthritic. Coffee and tea are diuretics which interfere with the absorption of vital nutrients that are essential for joint health.
3. Epsom salts baths – use only a small amount of Epsom salts – no more than 500 grams once per week in a bath to aid detoxification.
4. Apple cider vinegar – 1 teaspoon first thing in the morning in a cup of warm water with a teaspoon of Manuka honey.
5. Probiotics – Acidophilus supplementation is extremely important for maintaining healthy gut flora. An over-proliferation of the wrong type of bacteria in the gut (like Candida albicans), can lead to many symptoms, including joint pain. It is important to also include prebiotics in the diet (prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria). Prebiotics include chicory, garlic and bananas. FOS (fruco-oligosaccharide supplements) that serve as prebiotics are also available from naturopaths.
6. Reducing red meat in the diet is important. As a food, red meat is considered pro-inflammatory. Replace with deep, cold water oily fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and herring. These oily fish have omega 3 fatty acids that help to reduce joint inflammation.
7. An omega 3 supplement (fish oil) is an important supplement to consider, as they have a concentrated amount of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) to help reduce inflammation. See your naturopath for the appropriate therapeutic dose.
8. Cod Liver oil (according to C Buckley) was the cornerstone of treatment in the 1930’s. Cod liver oil contains vitamin A which is essential for the health of the mucous membranes in the body. It also contains vitamin D which helps to keep calcium in the bone.
9. Alcohol consumption will aggravate inflammation in the body. So it is important to lower or avoid alcohol intake as much as possible.
10. Ensure the diet has as many fresh, organic fruits and vegetables daily. These provide essential nutrients and fibre to keep the digestive system functioning.
11. Chewing food slowly and properly will help to stimulate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, as low hydrochloric acid in the gut may play a part in the progression of arthritis.
12. Liniments made with essential oils can provide pain relief when rubbed on externally. Oils such as wintergreen, benzoin, black pepper and chamomile are used for joint pain. The proportions have to be individually tailored to suit so it is necessary to check with a naturopath or aromatherapist to blend it individually.
13. Adequate water intake is necessary as joint health relies on adequate lubrication. Joints have glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans that are attract water to the joints. Two litres of filtered water per day is optimal.
14. Avoiding nightshades in the diet may help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. Nightshades include potatoes and tomatoes.
15. Regular massage is important to help reduce inflammation and keep joints mobile.
16. Glucosamine and chondriotin supplements are great to help rebuild any damaged cartilage and in doing so provide pain relief without the side effects of other medications. Glucosamine and chondroitin help send messages to the bone cells to rebuild rather than break down. Glucosamine is particularly useful in osteoarthritis, but also provides pain relief for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.
Arthritis is a condition that can be successfully treated using complementary medicine. There are many different herbal medicines that are prescribed and mixed individually, which may also contain herbs to improve digestion and reduce endoxins in the gut. These must be individually prescribed by a herbalist or naturopath and may include herbs such as Devil’s claw, Gotu cola, Ginkgo biloba, Black cohosh, White willow bark (aspirin was first formulated from White willow bark), Prickly ash, Nettle and Silver birch.
Homoeopathic treatment may also be extremely helpful to ease the pain of arthritis. A homoeopath will take into account every symptom you are experiencing, and prescribe one medicine that matches your “symptom picture”.
Yoga and meditation may be extremely useful, as inflammation in the body increases with stress. Meditation will help with calming the mind, and yoga helps to improve flexibility and muscle strength.
As with any state of dis-ease in the body, a naturopath will look at the whole person and make suggestions accordingly. With the colder weather fast approaching it is important to take appropriate steps so that arthritis won’t be a thorn in your paw this winter.
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