Get to the 'Joint' of Arthritis Pain!
Dr Mark Atkinson is a holistic medical physician, a consultant in clinical nutrition and one of the UK's pioneers of holistic medicine. In addition to consulting with patients at his Whole Body Healing Clinic in London, he runs health and healing workshops internationally, writes alternative health columns that are read by 2.5 million people each week and makes regular television appearances as a natural health expert.
If you’re suffering from joint pain or know someone who has joint pain and would like to know how to manage it using safe, natural, drug-free approaches – this article is for you. One of the biggest misconceptions about joint problems is that they are ‘just part of getting old’ and that you have to ‘grin and bear it’ – neither is correct! Any pain in the body, and this includes joint pain, is the body’s way of alerting you to some kind underlying problem, whether it be inflammation and/or degeneration. It’s the body’s way of asking for help. In this article I’m going to reveal what you can do to provide that help, but firstly you need to know something about joint pain and its causes.
What is joint pain?
Joint pain is any pain that occurs in and/or around a joint – the place where two bones meet. In the UK the most common cause is arthritis. According to the Arthritis Research Campaign some 8.9 million British people, that’s 19% of the population, have attended their GP’s surgery for arthritis related conditions. But it’s now believed that this is a considerable underestimate because many people with joint pain do not know that they have arthritis. The two main types of arthritis that people experience are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Osteoarthritis results from the degeneration of cartilage within the joints. Sufferers have a gradual progression of pain that worsens with the use of the joint, and stiffness in the morning. In the usual form of Osteoarthritis, the characteristic joints involved are the very end joints of the fingers, the thumb, the hips, knees and the base of the big toe.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory and autoimmune disorder, in which the body’s immune system starts attacking different parts of the body. Unlike Osteoarthritis, in which it is isolated usually to one or two parts of the body, Rheumatoid Arthritis often affects multiple joints, and those joints tend to be warm, red, painful and stiff. Rheumatoid Arthritis is associated with food intolerances and low stomach acid levels.
What to do if you have joint pain?
If you have joint pain – please do not ignore it! Book yourself into see your GP and get a diagnosis. In the vast majority of cases it will be Osteoarthritis, if it is, I encourage you to try the natural approaches I’m about to outline BEFORE taking medications. Research has now shown that anti-inflammatory drugs not only have considerable side-effects, such as ulceration, but they actually accelerate the rate at which joint degeneration occurs. More recently Vioxx, a drug prescribed by Doctors for treating Rheumatoid Arthritis was withdrawn from the market after it was found to double the risk of heart disease and stroke!
The food you eat can have a significant influence on your level of joint discomfort and the body’s ability to repair damage. An anti-arthritis diet involves limiting the amount of sugar, salt, cakes, biscuits, processed and fried foods you eat (these can exacerbate inflammation). It also involves increasing the amount of fruit and vegetable servings to at least 5, preferably 8 portions a day, eating oily fish 3 times weekly, limiting your intake of dairy produce to 3 or 4 times weekly, using olive oil on your vegetables/salads and eating one heaped teaspoon of seeds a day (a combination of sesame, flax and pumpkin is best). If you suffer from Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis try excluding members of the nightshade family of vegetables, this includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and aubergines, for at least 2 weeks – research shows that this benefits up to 60% of sufferers.
The real key to reversing joint damage and improving pain and mobility is to use specific natural supplements. As a baseline programme I recommend all my patients with joint pain to take:
A high potency multi-vitamin-mineral - to provide the body and joints with all the nutrients they need to repair themselves
1,000mg of Vitamin C daily - a natural pain-killer and antioxidant.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids – a natural anti-inflammatory
Plus a combination of the following, all of which have been scientifically proven to help with joint pain.provide the body and joints with all the nutrients they need to repair themselves
Glucosamine Sulphate – Glucosamine is made in the body from glucose (sugar) and an amino acid called ‘glutamine’. It is needed by the body to manufacture specialised molecules called ‘glycosaminoglycans’ (GAGs), which are important for the development of cartilage, bone, ligaments, nails, hair, and skin. Although Glucosamine does not work as fast as some standard pain medications, it has been shown to achieve equivalent levels of pain relief within 6 weeks, without the serious side effects associated with drugs. In fact, many European physicians are now giving Glucosamine to their Osteoarthritis patients as a first-line treatment.
Chondroitin Sulphate – Chondroitin Sulphate consists of repeating chains of molecules called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Chondroitin Sulphate is a major constituent of cartilage; providing structure, holding water and nutrients, and allowing other molecules to move through cartilage - an important property, as there is no blood supply to cartilage. A number of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies involving several hundred participants suggest that Chondroitin Sulphate can relieve symptoms of Osteoarthritis.
MSM – MSM (Methyl Sulphonyl Methane) is an organic form of sulphur that plays essential roles in human health. It is believed to be a necessary building block for proteins, especially those found in the hair, muscles, and connective tissue of the joints and skin. A small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial examined the use of MSM in Osteoarthritis.
Sixteen patients aged 55-78 with x-ray evidence of Osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to either 2,250 mg of MSM daily or a placebo. Based on the participants' own assessments of their pain levels, those taking MSM experienced an 82% improvement by the end of 6 weeks, compared to an 18% improvement in those taking the placebo.
Devil’s Claw – Devil’s Claw is a plant native to southern Africa, especially the Kalahari desert, Namibia and the island of Madagascar. One double-blind study followed 89 individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis for a 2-month period. The group given Devil’s Claw showed improved mobility and a significant decrease in pain intensity. Another double-blind study of 50 people with various types of arthritis found that 10 days of treatment with Devil’s Claw provided significant pain relief.
Summary – No-one needs to suffer from joint problems! There is considerable evidence that natural supplements, such as Glucosamine Sulphate, Chondroitin Sulphate, MSM and Devil’s Claw, are not only as effective for treating joint problems than medications, but do so without side effects. What’s more, when you take daily exercise, achieve your ideal weight and make some adjustments to your diet, the results are even better and quicker – often taking less than 4 weeks to notice the improvement.