A diagnosis of arthritis can be intimidating. More than half a million New Zealanders are living with arthritis. It is a serious health condition with no known cure and the leading cause of disability in our country. The good news is that you can help yourself make living with arthritis easier.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis where the cartilage on each end of a joint bone has been worn away leaving bone rubbing on bone. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, the body’s immune system starts to attack its own tissues, the joints become inflamed, swollen, deformed and mobility is affected. Gout is another form, usually affecting the big toe and is caused by the build-up of uric acid in the blood.
Gout attacks can be triggered by consuming alcohol and foods rich in purines. Limit eating foods such as offal, red meat, shellfish (mussels, oysters, pipis, paua, kina) and legumes (peas, beans and lentils). Try eating berries and cherries or celery to reduce acidity in your system. Cut alcohol drinks down and instead drink plenty of water.
A major factor in arthritis is inflammation causing pain, swelling, heat and redness. Try to reduce inflammation and maintain mobility with lifestyle changes. Exercise helps maintain joint mobility and non weight bearing exercise such as swimming or tai chi is ideal.
Foods may be helpful as natural painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Try onions, garlic, ginger, olives, nuts, oily fish and be liberal with the spice turmeric. Oily fish have high levels of EPA and DHA which may reduce pain and inflammation. If you are taking omega-3 supplements, look for a brand that provides at least 800mg of each. Foods rich in vitamin C may help develop cartilage, vitamin D may decrease the narrowing of joint spacing and calcium increases bone density. Zinc in high doses can have anti-inflammatory effects. The best foods are those that help alkalinize the blood and include nuts, seeds and lemons - a lovely hot water and lemon drink in the morning is a great start to the day. The most wonderful thing to drink to combat arthritis is apple cider vinegar with water, honey or apple juice.
Changing to a diet low in inflammatory foods can improve symptoms and quality of life. Find out if you have any sensitivities to foods that may be causing an inflammatory reaction in your body. Many people are intolerant to gluten and acidic foods such as tomatoes and oranges seem to worsen arthritis symptoms. Avoid alcohol. Increase the protein and decrease high GI carbohydrates in your diet by eating wholegrain foods. Increase flavonoids from fruit and vegetables.
Our digestion is crucial to our general health and especially important in inflammatory conditions. If food is not digested properly, proteins don’t get broken down into amino acids that are needed for the body to function. Undigested proteins are not recognized by our defense systems so our immune system tries to fight them, causing inflammation and our own tissues being attacked. If you are interested in improving your digestion, download a copy of ”Wellbeing solution for healthy digestion”.
Other supplements and medication can be helpful in managing arthritis and should be tailored to you. Start with topical rubs such as Zostrix and paracetamol to give a base line of pain relief. Paracetamol works by stopping pain messages being passed to the brain and best results are seen with regular dosing. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work at the site of the injury to interrupt the body’s chemical cascade which would normally lead to heat, swelling, pain and redness at the site. These are often added to paracetamol if pain relief is not adequate but come with many side effects. Natural anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, zinc, MSM and omega-3 oils are worth looking into as an alternative. It is important to discuss your condition with your Doctor and let him/her know of any products you may be taking.