More than 37 million Americans are living with some form of arthritis, and chances are you or someone you love experiences this degenerative condition. One of the most debilitating types, rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack joints and tissues, resulting in serious pain and swelling. The number of women with this condition appears to be suddenly on the rise, even women under age 30. Equally concerning is a new study by Mayo Clinic researchers that shows rheumatoid arthritis patients suffer a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease due to factors like severe inflammation, steroid treatments, elevated blood pressure and unhealthy weight.
Other forms of arthritis, like osteoarthritis (often called “wear and tear arthritis”), can also be debilitating. While not always life-threatening, arthritis threatens life qualitywith devastating pain and joint destruction, making it the leading cause of disability today.
Indeed, arthritis impacts every area of life, and vice versa. Diet, lifestyle, activity levels, occupation, stress and even family and relationship dynamics have been shown to influence this disease. Currently, there are no cures for arthritis, but research shows that symptoms can be managed and reduced with approaches that work to lower inflammation, balance the immune response and help lubricate and rebuild joint tissues.
Today’s typical diets and lifestyles are extremely pro-inflammatory. The Standard American Diet (SAD), full of processed foods, sugar and trans fats, fried foods, refined grains and chemical ingredients, is a main culprit behind our epidemic of inflammatory diseases — not just arthritis but heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, obesity and more. It’s also well-established that chronic stress elevates inflammation with a steady flood of stress hormones. Lack of exercise causes stagnation in the circulatory system, leading to increased inflammation as waste products accumulate in oxygen-deprived tissues, joints and organs.
Eventually, chronic inflammation causes excess scar tissue to build up — a process known as fibrosis. This leads to stiffening of tissues, reduced circulation and loss of function in the affected area. Inflammation also causes a gradual wearing-down of healthy tissues and dries out precious lubrication fluids. So keeping inflammation in check is priority No. 1. The best way to do this is with an anti-inflammatory diet, regular exercise, targeted supplements and healthy stress relief.
Food As Medicine
An anti-inflammatory diet requires that we avoid or eliminate processed, pro-inflammatory foods. These included refined grains, sugars, hydrogenated fats and trans-fats, fried foods, table salts, preservatives, and artificial ingredients and alcohol. For many people, dairy products and gluten are also pro-inflammatory; most people with joint pain find significant relief after eliminating these common culprits as well.
The best foods to fight inflammation are fresh produce, particularly green leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits and vegetables. The same phytonutrients that give tomatoes, blueberries, peppers and countless other plant foods their color, also offer important benefits for inflammation, immune support and numerous other areas of health. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cabbage contain unique sulfur compounds that can help reduce inflammation and support joint and tissue repair. They’re also high in fiber — another important anti-inflammatory nutrient.
Ginger and turmeric are excellent anti-inflammatory herbs that are shown in studies to help alleviate arthritis pain.
Healthy fats from sources like hemp and flax oils, olive oil, coconut oil and raw nuts and seeds help reduce inflammation, boost circulation and lubricate joints and tissues.
Protein from plant-based sources such as sprouted legumes and seeds, and small amounts of free-range meats or cold-water fish like salmon help reduce inflammation and repair tissues.
Switch coffee for green or black tea. Tea contains a number of powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that support numerous areas of health. And drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to flush inflammatory proteins and hydrate tissues.
One of my top recommendations for inflammation is the supplement modified citrus pectin (MCP) which binds to the pro-inflammatory protein galectin-3. Excess levels of galectin-3 promote fibrosis in joints, tissues and organs, but MCP blocks these effects. The supplement also helps detoxify harmful heavy metals, modulate immunity and fight cancer, heart disease and other pro-inflammatory conditions.
Curcumin from turmeric is another helpful supplement that works to reduce inflammation by modulating inflammatory pathways, such as NF-kB. It’s also commonly used with the compound resveratrol for greater anti-inflammatory benefits.
Many people report joint relief using glucosamine supplements that support joint cartilage. Sulfur-based supplements such as MSM may also help rebuild joint tissues. Vitamin D3 supports bone health and can help reduce chronic inflammation as well.
Mindfulness And Movement
Regular, gentle exercise like walking, yoga and swimming are great physical activities for joint health. They’re low-impact, yet they can greatly increase circulation and reduce inflammation — a win/win for arthritis sufferers.
Physical activity also reduces stress, another critical component in alleviating arthritis pain. Other stress-relief practices such as mindful meditation can reduce inflammation and are shown to improve pain response to arthritis.
Together, these practices can form a foundation not only for joint health, but for overall wellness and vitality.