There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis of which osteoarthritis is the most common. This article focuses on its causes, treatment options and preventive measures against further joint damage.
Osteoarthritis is an increasingly common disorder in both men and women. It is mainly a chronic disorder associated with age due to general wear and tear, resulting in stiff, swollen and painful joints, and inflammation. There is a plethora of analgesics and anti-inflammatories available to deal with the symptoms, and many surgical devices and invasive techniques are available for its management. What is generally overlooked, however, is that there are numerous natural measures which are able to alleviate the pain and mobility problems of osteoarthritis and inhibit further progress of the disorder. These are well tolerated even over the long haul, and they often involve lifestyle changes that benefit the patient in other ways.
WONDERS OF NATURE
Our joints are wonders of natural bio-engineering; they allow us to move around and remain flexible, and hold our bones together. They are self-lubricating and self-maintaining, and work efficiently (usually) for many decades. As with all body structures, they do sometimes malfunction, and what we generally take for granted becomes instead a source of pain, discomfort, incapacity and frustration.5
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Arthritis is one such failure. Our joints become inflamed, bringing signs and symptoms typical of inflammation: pain; heat; swelling; redness; and stiffness. As there are many types of arthritis, this article will focus solely on osteoarthritis, the form most likely to affect us, especially as we get older.6
Osteoarthritis is largely due to general wear and tear of three of our most stressed joints – our knees, hips and backbone. The jellylike cartilage pads cushioning the contact between bones wear away inexorably – ‘degenerate’ – during life’s journey. The bone ends become exposed, and the joint tissues become inflamed which is the body’s attempt to protect and heal itself. Pain tells us to slow down, fluid floods the joint to protect it, blood fl ow is boosted to take repair materials to the joint, and the joint stiffens to limit our movement.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Osteoarthritis begins when the smooth, highly polished contact surfaces of a joint roughen up. It may be due to mundane, everyday physical activity over time, or accelerated by excessive, irregular or high-impact physical exercise. Fragments of cartilage may break off, aggravating existing damage. Knee, hip or back injuries when young will encourage osteoarthritis later as will serious joint infections or regular gout attacks, and bone fractures around the joints.7
Natural medicine healers regard osteoarthritis as the outcome of disharmony in the joint tissues, due to acidity, ageing, injury, microbial invasion or genetic predisposition. The Tibb modality’s view, for example, is that it is due to a gross imbalance between the body’s cold and dry qualities. Treatment therefore revolves around redressing the balance by altering the patient’s diet and lifestyle to favour hot and moist qualities.8
LIFESTYLE AND OSTEOARTHRITIS
For many, osteoarthritis is the inevitable outcome of a faulty or inadequate way of life. Someone who is overweight or obese places an extra load on many joints. Over time, osteoarthritis inevitably develops. Also, the muscles surrounding the joint in someone leading a sedentary ‘couch potato’ life will atrophy through disuse, and the disorder will eventually appear. If we are chronically dehydrated, this too may bring on osteoarthritis, as the natural joint cleansing action cannot work properly.8
DRUGS USED FOR OSTEOARTHRITIS
There are many analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs for relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis. For acute flare-ups a corticosteroid injection into the affected joint often works wonders. However, over the long term, many patients experience intolerable side effects such as gastric upsets and stomach ulcers. This often encourages them to discontinue treatment or to seek more natural remedies.3
THE NATURAL WAY
Natural medicine paradigms, such as Tibb, maintain that osteoarthritis can be halted, and even reversed. As there is a host of factors which bring about osteoarthritis, a three-pronged approach is adopted: first, relief of symptoms; second, prevention of further damage to the joints; and third, changing the lifestyle for the better.4,8,9
Relieving the symptoms
- Hands on: Aching, swollen joints respond to either heating or cooling pads, or massaging with menthol, or heating herbs like blackseed and capsaicin. Acupuncture and dry cupping are often effective.
- Food selection: Antioxidant agents are present in some fruits (apples, strawberries), veggies (onions, shallots) and olive oil. Oily fish high in omega-3s (sardines, tuna) are known to relieve stiffness and fight inflammation. Choose amongst the following twice a week: sardines, salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring.
- Herbs: The anti-inflammatory herbs turmeric and guggul relieve inflammation.
Preventing further damage
- Lowering risk: Shed excess body mass by decreasing energy intake and increasing physical activity. This confers benefits in other areas of health. Cut down on the regular consumption of charred meat.
- Food selection: Foods rich in vitamins, especially C and E, stimulate cartilage repair.
- Food supplements: Honey and naturally occurring glucosamine often reduce symptoms and restore joint mobility by stimulating cartilage renewal.
- Food avoidance: Cut down on certain foods, such as tomatoes and potatoes, in favour of dark berries, nuts, ginger and fermented foods.
- Food and drink: Choose foods that reduce inflammation.
- Exercise more: Regular mild exercise strengthens the muscles supporting the bone joints.
- Add herbs and spices: Especially those that restore inner harmony.
- Remove toxins: Increasing water intake improves toxin removal.
While the statistics indicate that a high percentage of us will be afflicted with osteoarthritis later in life, we have the choice to lead a healthy lifestyle to minimise the risk of developing the condition or at least to minimise discomfort. Eat well, drink lots of water and exercise more to maintain happy, healthy joints.
Additional supplements to help manage arthritis include:
- Glucosamine sulphate is derived from the shells of shellfish or some vegetables and is a major component of bone cartilage. It may slow down the deterioration of cartilage, improve joint mobility and thereby relieve osteoarthritis. The recommended dosage is 1 500 mg per day.10
- Chondroitin occurs naturally in the body’s connective tissues and is an important component of cartilage. Supplementing with chondroitin sulphate, which is largely derived from beef cartilage, may prove beneficial for osteoarthritis by stimulating the repair of damaged cartilage. The recommended dosage is 800 to 2 000 mg, either in a single dose or two or three divided doses daily, for up to three years.11
- Another effective source of sulphur is methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). The recommended dosages are: 1 000 to 3 000 mg of glucosamine sulphate and 600 to 2 000 mg of MSM daily. The lower doses will support joints and prevent degeneration, while the higher doses will maximise recovery.12
- The herb Buchu contains several anti-inflammatory compounds including quercetin and rutin, and vitamins A, B and E. The body responds extremely well to the healing properties of Buchu and the herb has been used for hundreds of years as a safe and natural treatment for the pain and chronic inflammation associated with arthritis.
- If you are not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids through your diet in the form of oily fish, consider taking a good-quality supplement to relieve arthritis-associated inflammation.
For more information on Tibb’s philosophy of health and disease and the role of lifestyle factors, visit the Tibb website: www.tibb.co.za
A list of references is available from the Natural Medicine office: Tel: 021 880 1444.