Treating Arthritis with functional medicine

Arthritis is an umbrella term for a range of conditions involving pain and inflammation in the joints.

The two most common types are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that results from wear and tear within the joints. It typically affects the larger weight bearing joints such as the hips and the knees and gets worse with age. In osteoarthritis the protective cartilage caps on the ends of the bones gradually wear away causing pain when the joint is used. Eventually the cartilage is completely eroded and the underlying bone is exposed. Bone rubs on bone causing further damage. The bone also tries to repair itself, which leads to narrowing of the joint space and restricted movement.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation in the joints is a result of the immune system mistakenly attacking the joints. The immune system makes antibodies which attack the joint lining and the cartilage causing pain, swelling and eventually deformity of the joints. This type of arthritis typically affects the smaller joints such as the fingers and toes and it can occur at any age. It’s usually worse in the mornings and eases off through the days. Since it is the immune system that has gone in rheumatoid arthritis some sufferers will also experience symptoms in other areas of the body such as the eyes or kidneys. It’s not entirely clear what causes the immune system to behave in this way. It is thought to be a combination of genetic factors and an external trigger such as bacteria, virus, or food.

Other types of arthritis include:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis – an inflammatory condition that mainly affects the bones and ligaments of the spine, leading to pain, stiffness and the spinal joints fusing together.
  • Gout – a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. This can deposit in joints causing severe pain, redness and swelling. It typically affects the big toe.
  • Psoriatic arthritis – an inflammatory joint condition that can affect people with psoriasis.
  • Enteropathic arthritis – a form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Reactive arthritis – this can cause inflammation of the joints, eyes and urethra (the tube that urine passes through). It develops shortly after an infection of the bowel or genital tract.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition where the immune system causes muscle pain, stiffness and inflammation in the neck, shoulders and hips.

There’s no cure for arthritis, so medical treatment aims to control symptoms and slow down disease progress. Commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Painkillers
  • Steroid medications to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgical joint treatments for osteoarthritis such as hip replacements
  • Disease modifying drugs for rheumatoid arthritis such as methotrexate and anti-TNF medications – these aim to slow the disease down.

How can functional medicine help?

Functional medicine can:

  • Create a diet and supplement protocol containing nutrients that support the repair and regeneration of cartilage.
  • Provide a range of natural options to help reduce pain and inflammation, with less side effects.
  • Reduce the body’s inflammatory response using dietary changes and specific supplements.
  • Encourage a more balanced immune response by working on the gut.
  • Uncover and address any underlying conditions or imbalances that might be triggering the arthritis symptoms.
  • Identify any potential foods that might be worsening arthritis symptoms and create a personalised low-reactive diet.
  • Address and correct any nutrient deficiencies that might be contributing the arthritis symptoms.