I have had 8 (!) people ask me about arthritis in the last month, so of course I had to make it a Q&A Wednesday topic.
Before I dive into some foods and supplements that can be useful, let me write a little about what arthritis is, and what it does to our body.
Arthritis is actually a term that encompasses hundreds of different diseases that all lead to the same symptoms: painful joints that can be swollen or stiff. Right now in the medical community, there are four commonly accepted reasons for arthritis:
Degenerative arthritis is a wearing down of our joints. In a joint like the elbow, bones meet - your lower arm (ulna and radius) and your upper arm (humerus) bones. In order for them to not rub against each other, the ends of the bones are covered in a protective cover called cartilage. Between the bones is a little gap filled with fluid (synovial fluid). Both the cartilage and the fluid can start to wear down with age, causing the bones to rub against each other, which then causes pain when we move. I don't like to think of this problems as an age related problem, because there are around 300,000 children also suffering from this problem. It is more a problem of not nourishing the cartilage and fluid enough for it to say strong. We will dive into how to do this below, so keep reading.
Metabolic arthritis is arthritis caused by too much uric acid in your blood. Uric acid is a made when compounds called purines are broken down in your body. Foods that are high in purines are meat, especially liver and kidney, as well as most seafoods, and all alcohol. Usually, uric acid would just get filtered in the kidneys and eliminated through your urine. In case your kidneys can't handle the amount of uric acid, they will flush some back into your blood. The uric acid will then crystallize in joints, causing sharp, needle like pain. This then often turns to bouts of gout. Eliminating uric acid forming foods can often reverse this type of arthritis.
Inflammatory arthritis is characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking the joints. This is for example rheumatoid arthritis. I don't believe that the immune system just makes a mistake and attacks our own body. There is a deeper underlying reason for this inflammation, often caused by viruses or bacteria that start to break down our body. Sadly, diagnosis often stop with "inflammation", and don't look any further. If you have been diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, I highly encourage you to see a functional medicine doctor, who can look at pathogens in your body, and help you heal from them.
The last category of arthritis is infectious arthritis, which is brought on by invaders like viruses, bacteria or fungi. They can start to break down joints, which causes pain. As you can see, technically inflammatory and infectious arthritis fall into the same category, and can be treated the same way.
All tips I will give you here can be used for all kinds of arthritis to ease pain and discomfort, and help joints move more easily.
1. Lubricate joints
The fluid in the joints is primarily water, so it should come as no surprise that I am going to ask you to drink more water. Water is a reoccurring theme with all my clients. Most people don't like to drink water, they don't get thirsty, and they would rather not run to the bathroom every hour. I get all of that. And yet, water is still the most important nutrient we need to consume. It is part of every single process that happens in our body, from the blinking of our eye lids to the beating of our heart. And as you can see, water is important for joint health. Most often when you wake up with stiffness in your joints in the morning, it is actually just dehydration. I like to say drink 3-4 liters / 100-130oz per day. This will help with your joints moving more freely, and nice side effects are less constipation, clearer skin, and more energy.
If you absolutely can't stand drinking water, try herbal teas or flavoring your water with lemon, lime, herbs or fruit. Here are some flavored water ideas. And you can also try sipping on broths and adding more soups to your daily meal plans.
2. Nourish the cartilage
The cartilage has no blood flow through it, so repairing worn down cartilage takes much longer than other tissues in the body. This means you need to be patient and consistent with nourishing it. Healthy fats are your savior here: nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, and fatty fish (if you eat fish) are all great sources of healthy fats. Our diet of highly processed junk food and fried foods has thrown our balance of fats off. Healthy fats help lubricate cartilage, hair, skin, arteries, and muscles. They are the biggest component of your brain, and therefore it is essential we eat them. I have talked about Udo's oil before, which is a wonderful plant based supplement to help with getting the right kinds of fat into your body. Other than that, adding more nuts, seeds, avocado, and fish shouldn't be too difficult, you can make it delicious. Also flaxseed oil, olive oil, and coconut oil are good sources of healthy fats. And don't worry, this kind of fat does not make you fat. I talk a lot about healthy fats in the 4 week health kickstarter program, and this is always number one concern for all my clients. But let me repeat it again: this healthy fat will not make you fat.
3. Colorful produce
Vegetables and fruit are our best friends when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and other secondary compounds. Only one in ten Americans gets enough fruit and vegetables daily. This leaves a huge room for improvement. While the national guidelines have been five servings of fruit and vegetables for years, our bodies need much more than that to provide us with all the nutrients we need. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal. This will help with vitamins, that your joints need to restore themselves. It will give you many anti-inflammatory compounds that help to bring down inflammation, swelling, and pain. And fresh produce is rich in anti-oxidants, which basically catch free radicals that can come and destroy joints and other tissues. On top of that, fresh produce has a high water content, adding even more water to your daily intake. It's a win-win-win with produce, so eat as much as possible.
4. Cruicerferous veggies
Studies have shown that cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts block an enzyme in your joints, which is responsible for pain. So start to love those Brussels sprouts :-)