Arthritis is a well-known and common condition can cause difficult, life-altering pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis impacts over 54 million Americans, making it the number one cause of disability in the country. To put it into perspective, it affects 1 in every 5 adults and many families which must deal with the repercussions of this painful condition every day.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than 43% of adults with arthritis have work or leisure related activity limitations due to pain. While all types present the same general symptoms of pain and joint concerns, each has a unique root cause, some of which are better understood than others.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a broad term used to describe joint inflammation. Joint inflammation refers to symptoms like swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion that can make daily activities uncomfortable or challenging.
In many instances, these symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition. Sometimes symptoms can be very manageable until they flare up or get worse over time.
If you are experiencing severe arthritis, it is beneficial to seek medical assistance as it can lead to chronic pain and permanent damage that could result in long-term joint changes or trouble with heart, eye, lung, and kidney function.
What are the types of arthritis?
The most common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis, and gout.
Osteoarthritis—often referred to as OA—is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by joint degeneration where bone friction or decreased space between joint capsules leads to inflammation.
Traditionally considered “wear and tear damage” to the joint cartilage, OA is a degenerative joint disease caused by breakdown of cartilage and other joint structures. The physiological events that occur in OA result in progressive joint degeneration, including destruction of cartilage, joint space narrowing, cysts, spinal disc and facet joint changes, and changes to synovium, ligaments, muscles, meniscus, fat pads, and the layer of bone beneath the cartilage.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include joint pain, loss of mobility, and deformation. Currently, only symptom-modifying drugs are licensed by the FDA for use. These are largely pain-reducing therapies that are limited in efficacy and can have significant side effects as well as toxicity, so it is best to proceed with caution. In addition, if you’re looking for an alternative solution to address chronic pain, try a non-surgical approach to joint and orthopedic injuries. Natural joint and back pain management is an effective way to address discomfort and diminished mobility, while providing long-term, whole-body support to help heal the body and prevent injury.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common inflammatory arthritis, affecting about 1% of the population. Though the specific cause of RA remains unknown, there is evidence to suggest that it results from complex interactions between genes and our environment.
Certain mechanisms promote and regulate our inflammatory pathways, including damage to bone and cartilage. The small joints in our hands and feet are most affected, and sometimes RA can affect our organs, such as our eyes, skin, or lungs. Over time, the persistent inflammation can break down the joint and lead to permanent joint deformities.
Truth be told, RA in not just a single disease. Instead, many factors can lead to autoimmune reactivity—the process when the immune system attacks itself. Therefore, rheumatoid arthritis is said to be an autoimmune disease so it is important to monitor and prepare for flare ups that can disrupt daily activities.
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis that typically occurs in patients with skin psoriasis.
Psoriatic arthritis is most often seen in larger joints. It is especially prominent in joints of the legs and feet, as well as in the joints of the fingers and toes, and the back and sacroiliac joints of the pelvis.
Gout is a form of non-autoimmune inflammatory arthritis that impacts over 9 million Americans and is the most common inflammatory joint disease in men. The incidence of gout has more than doubled over the recent 20 years, and researchers believe this is likely tied to dietary changes and rising rates of obesity.
The good news is gout does not result in the same systemic inflammation seen in rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis. The level of joint inflammation that is characterized as gout is the result of elevated levels of uric acid in the blood stream, leading to painful uric acid crystal deposits inside the joints. Eating a diet that is rich in meat and wine increases a person’s chances of developing gout.
Luckily, using a natural approach that examines the root cause, our doctors can manage the symptoms of arthritis through lifestyle interventions, such as nutrition, exercise, physical therapy, and nutraceuticals customized for your body’s individual needs.
How can nutrition habits affect arthritis?
Believe it or not, certain food sensitivities can exacerbate arthritic conditions. Common inflammatory foods include wheat, dairy, corn, peanuts, potatoes, and other foods. However, on the flip side, there are various vitamins, nutrients, and supplements that support healthy mobility. To maintain strong joints and prevent arthritic pain and inflammation, Spark Health’s functional nutrition counselors recommend incorporating the following nutrients into your diet:
Current research supports the protective role fruits, and their polyphenols, play in taming symptoms associated with multiple forms of arthritis. Berries and berry extracts have properties that help protect joint structures and decrease overall markers of inflammation. There is also evidence to suggest specific polyphenols, such as quercetin and citrus flavonoids, can alleviate arthritis symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils have a well-established anti-inflammatory effect and have been used to manage painful joint conditions for many years.
Omega-3 supplementation has been shown to relieve the pain of RA and OA and may reduce the reliance on over-the-counter pain medications. Another fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is derived from black current seeds, borage, and evening primrose oil also has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, a meta-analysis of studies investigating the effect of GLA on rheumatoid arthritis revealed a 33% reduction in pain and a 15% improvement in mobility!
There is a wide range of supplements and herbal products that have therapeutic benefits for treating arthritis. Among the most common are glucosamine and chondroitin, which have been studied extensively on their own and in combination.
Studies found that glucosamine may work better than ibuprofen in relieving joint pain, and chondroitin worked better than a placebo in improving pain and mobility.
Herbal supplements also provide benefits for people with arthritis. A meta-analysis involving Boswellia serrata revealed that using the herb for 90 days significantly improved pain and physical function in arthritis patients.
Curcumin extract, which is derived from turmeric root, is also a favorite among naturopathic physicians for its fantastic anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that curcumin can prevent and treat OA and RA symptoms by reducing systemic inflammation and protect the synovium of the joint from inflammatory damage.
Lastly, green tea and green tea extracts have also been investigated as potential treatment interventions for arthritis. Green tea modulates inflammation via several physiological pathways and consuming it regularly may prevent the onset of arthritic conditions, as well as delay its progression.
How our naturopathic doctors can provide you with holistic arthritis care
A naturopathic doctor holds the key to uncovering a variety of symptoms that may be contributing to your arthritic pain.
At Spark Health, we offer multidisciplinary care designed to improve whole-body function.
To fully assess the cause of your arthritic pain, our team may begin by issuing a food sensitivity test as part of our functional lab evaluations to discover which foods could be inhibiting your body’s ability to heal.
Based upon the results of your food sensitivity test, your primary care provider would then schedule some time to meet, discuss the findings, and work with the rest of our specialists to develop a personalized care plan that could include functional nutrition counseling, physical therapy, or natural joint and back pain management.
However, don’t just take our word for it. Experience the benefits for yourself. If you’re seeking better support for healthy joints, schedule an appointment with the Spark Health team of naturopathic doctors. Located in Solana Beach in San Diego County, CA, Spark Health Holistic Healthcare Clinic examines your health using a wider lens. Our team of practitioners take an all-encompassing approach to your health to reconstruct and restore your body from the inside out. Contact us to schedule an initial appointment!
Article written by Dr. Barbara Ivos, ND