Arthritis and Inflammation
The most common misconception about arthritis is that the disease strikes only old people. Yet, from 2010 to 2012, 7.3 percent of Americans ages 18 to 44 reported being diagnosed with the condition, while 30.3 percent of individuals between 45 and 64 were afflicted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is almost one-third of middle-age Americans. And those numbers are on the rise, with an estimated 1 million new cases being diagnosed every year.
An arthritis diagnosis can feel like a life sentence. But it doesn’t have to be, and here’s why: Its root causes are treatable.
Inflammation exacerbates joint symptoms. From a functional-medicine perspective, the gut is the root of all inflammatory arthritic conditions. So, for all forms of arthritis, an anti-inflammatory protocol that treats the gut will improve symptoms and reduce the need for medication. This is true whether the cause is autoimmunity, as with rheumatoid arthritis, or injury and overuse, in the case of osteoarthritis.
In light of the vast research devoted to leaky gut syndrome in recent years, leading experts now conclude that gut dysbiosis — an overgrowth of yeast, harmful bacteria, and parasites that overwhelms beneficial gut bacteria — is often behind the development of arthritis. It is a powerful source of body wide inflammation.
And you can suffer from dysbiosis without exhibiting any symptoms. It can be caused by stress, antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors and antacids, traveler’s diarrhea and other infections, and dietary issues.
Dysbiosis damages the intestinal lining and causes the gut to leak, allowing bacteria and microscopic undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream. Because these substances don’t belong there, the immune system treats them as invaders and releases an inflammatory cascade to vanquish them, which eventually leads to system-wide inflammation. Those gut bacteria also get into the synovial fluid of the joints, causing pain and inflammation.
This is why the only way to cure arthritis at its roots is to heal and balance your gut bacteria while addressing all the factors, including stress, that might be disrupting your gut health and triggering inflammation.
How does arthritis feel?
Arthritis usually causes stiffness pain and fatigue. The severity varies from person to person and even from day to day. In some people only a few joints are affected and the impact may be small. In other people the entire body system may be affected.
The joints of the body are the site of much of the action in arthritis. Many types of arthritis show signs of joint inflammation: swelling, stiffness, tenderness, redness or warmth. These joint symptoms may be accompanied by weight loss, fever or weakness.
When these symptoms last for more than two weeks, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis may be the cause. Joint inflammation may also be caused by infection which can lead to septic arthritis. Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) is the most common type of arthritis; joint inflammation is not a prominent feature of this condition. While normal joints can support a vast amount of use, mechanical abnormalities of a joint make it susceptible to degeneration.
It is healthy for you to keep active and move your joints. If you do not move a joint regularly, the muscles around it weaken and/or become tight. The joint can stiffen or even freeze. When you do try to move the joint and muscles hurt because they have been still for so long.
Many things affect how your joints and muscles feel. Pain may be caused by swelling, joint damage, muscle tightness or spasm. Muscles hurt after doing exercise or activities you aren’t used to; sometimes when the joint is damaged simple activities stress the joint.
When your joints are inflamed or damaged, you need to take certain precautions as you do all your daily activities. Your doctor or therapist can teach you exercises and the correct use of heat and cold to decrease pain. You can also learn how to use your body with the least stress to your joints for less pain, easier movement and even more energy.
Arthritis can make it hard to do the movements you rely on every day for work or taking care of your family.
Could Diet Cure Arthritis?
Gut and autoimmunity expert Dr. Steven Gundry, author of The Plant Paradox, has been making waves with his research on lectins—a type of protein found in some plants that he believes to be at the root of most diseases. Gundry’s diet recommendations have proved particularly effective for patients struggling with arthritis—a condition he not surprisingly has an unconventional stance on, and one that he connects to a breakdown in the gut.
What is a balanced diet?
If you have a condition like arthritis, you might need to speak to your doctor or another healthcare professional for specific diet advice. The advice in the following section applies to everyone, regardless of their general health.
The food groups
For a balanced diet, you should try to eat a range of food from the following groups:
- fruit and vegetables
- starchy foods, such as potatoes and wholegrains; bread, rice, or pasta
- foods containing protein, such as beans, pulses, meat, fish, or eggs
- dairy or dairy alternatives
- healthy fats, such as unsaturated oils and spreads.
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables should make up just over one-third of the food you eat each day. They’re a good source of vitamins and some minerals that your body needs, as well as providing you with fibre which can help keep your digestive system healthy.
It’s recommended that everyone eats at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. It’s best to eat a variety of different types and to make sure that vegetables included in our diet, and not only fruit.
The fruit and vegetables you eat don’t need to be fresh – frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables also count, as well as juices. However it’s important to be aware that fruit juices contain large amounts of sugars and hidden calories, even those with no added sugar.
People who eat five portions a day are at lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.
The following all count as a portion:
- 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit or vegetables
- 30g of dried fruit
- 150ml glass of juice or a smoothie.
Starchy foods should make up just over one-third of the food you eat each day. Try to base your meals around these foods. These foods are our main source of carbohydrates, which are important for giving us energy.
Starchy foods include:
Starchy foods can also be a good source of fibre – particularly wholegrain bread and cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice and quinoa. Take care when choosing cereals as they may have added sugar or salt. Eating the skin on potatoes will also provide plenty of fibre.
Fibre can improve the way our bodies digest food and help us to feel full, so these foods can be a good option if you’re trying to lose weight. Fibre is also useful at lowering cholesterol in your blood, which can reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.
Foods containing protein
The body needs protein to grow, repair and function. Good sources of protein include:
Eggs, fish and meat are all high in protein. Try to choose lean cuts of meat and poultry with the skin removed to cut down on saturated fat, and avoid processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausages.
Pulses, including beans, peas and lentils, are high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals and are also low in fat.
Dairy and dairy alternatives
Dairy products are good sources of protein and calcium, which can help keep your bones strong and healthy. Dairy products include cows’ milk, yogurt, cheese and kefir. Dairy alternatives, such as soya, coconut, nut, oat and pea milks are also good sources of protein, but always check the label to see if they are fortified with calcium and iodine.
Try to pick lower fat and lower sugar options where possible, for example semi-skimmed milk, lower fat hard cheeses or yogurts that are low in sugar.
Some dairy products can be high in saturated fat.
Healthy fats – unsaturated oils and spreads
Not all fats are bad, and we need some in our diet to stay healthy. Most of the fat in our diets should be from unsaturated fats, such as olive oil and spread, and rapeseed oil. Foods containing high amounts of saturated fats, such as animal fats in butter, ghee, fatty meat, and cheese, should be avoided or reduced if possible.
Promoting Gut Health
There are several ways to optimize gut health. Diet plays a critical role. A varied, plant-based diet that includes prebiotic and probiotic foods is a great start. But many healthy lifestyle habits that are good for arthritis are also beneficial for your gut. These include exercise, good sleep habits, stress management and smoking cessation.