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Natural ways to manage arthritis

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A functional medicine approach to naturally manage arthritis

Arthritis affects over ten million people in the UK 1 , prompting many sufferers to look for natural ways to manage their condition. It causes pain and stiffness in the joints, along with limited mobility.

There are over one hundred different types of arthritis or arthritis-related conditions. Although arthritis is often connected with older age, some types of arthritis can affect younger people and even children.

Healthcare providers typically prescribe painkillers, anti-inflammatories or steroid medications to reduce or suppress arthritis symptoms. However, these don’t address the root causes of the disease, or the factors contributing towards its ongoing progression. This results in the condition inevitably worsening over time, with often the need to take medication long-term. Eventually, a joint replacement operation may be the only solution.

This article will explore how a functional medicine approach can support arthritis sufferers.

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine offers a different approach aiming to address the root causes of arthritis. It views the body as a complex system of interconnected parts. It aims to identify and correct imbalances in the body to restore optimal health. The approach utilizes a combination of dietary changes, sustainable lifestyle modifications, supplements, and other natural therapies as appropriate.

What are the Different Types of Arthritis?

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis occurs due to wear and tear on the joints. This leads to deterioration of the protective cartilage within the joint. Over time, bone starts to rub on bone. It often affects the hips and knees. On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis stems from the immune system mistakenly attacking the joints, causing inflammation and pain and eventually joint deformity. It often affects the fingers and toes. It can appear at any age, with cyclical patterns over time or according to the time of day.

Other types of arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, affecting the spine, psoriatic arthritis, a type of arthritis connected with psoriasis, and reactive arthritis, which follows an infection. You might also encounter polymyalgia rheumatica, muscle and joint stiffness caused by immune system dysfunction. Finally, there’s gout, which famously attacks the big toe, related to an excess of uric acid.

Whichever type of arthritis affects you, functional medicine will investigate the imbalances causing your condition and aim to put them right.

How Does Diet Affect Arthritis?

Inflammation plays a significant role in arthritis. Therefore, many people find eating foods associated with reducing inflammation can help manage their symptoms. Certain foods, like sugar, processed foods, and certain fats, can contribute to inflammation, worsening arthritis symptoms. Meanwhile, a nutrient-dense diet packed with whole plant foods and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation and support healthy joints. A diet rich in colourful plant foods contains a good range of phytonutrients, often called antioxidants. These can help decrease inflammation, according to studies 2.

Your gut is your control panel when it comes to regulating inflammation. A healthy population of bacteria living in your digestive system naturally controls inflammation and maintains a balanced immune response. But if the bacteria become unbalanced, with disease-promoting species dominating, inflammation can skyrocket. In tandem, the immune system becomes out of kilter, attacking innocent parts of the body like the joints 3.

Foods that may help with arthritis

Upping your intake of fruit and vegetables provides fibre, food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Researchers gave people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet. This means plenty of plant foods, oily fish, nuts and seeds and minimal meat, processed foods and sugar. They found reduced levels of a blood marker of inflammation 4.

Omega 3 fats are worth a special mention because of their role in reducing inflammation 5. They’re rich in oily fish, nuts, especially walnuts, and seeds like flax, chia and pumpkin seeds.

In a study involving over two hundred participants, ginger reduced knee pain in osteoarthritis 6. Meanwhile, garlic has shown promise in decreasing pain and fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis 7.

Which Foods Can Aggravate Arthritis?

It’s worth investigating whether you are sensitive to certain foods. In some people, foods including red meat, gluten grains, dairy 8, and vegetables belonging to the nightshade family, can spark off symptoms. However, it’s important not to simply exclude foods – particularly plant foods – from your diet without knowing for sure they’re an issue for you.

A varied diet is incredibly beneficial because it contains a wide range of nutrients. This is where the help of a therapist is invaluable. They can direct you towards appropriate testing, or via comprehensive symptom analysis, advise you about foods you might benefit from excluding.

What Supplements Can Help Arthritis?

Research suggests supplements like turmeric 9, Boswellia 10, and Devil’s Claw 11 may be useful for managing pain and inflammation.

Vitamin C plays a role in the formation and repair of cartilage, the material cushioning your joints.

Research has shown that low levels of vitamin D – common in the UK population, especially during the winter – are correlated with rheumatoid arthritis 12.

Does Functional Medicine Treat Arthritis?

While functional medicine does not treat disease, it aims to restore balance to the body. Thus, it creates the conditions needed for your body to repair itself and to naturally restore health. One of the key principles of functional medicine is a personalised approach. You are an individual with unique factors contributing towards your arthritis, like genetics, diet, stress levels and environment. Your personalised plan will address the underlying potential causes of your arthritis and aim to rebalance your body. In addition, your programme will provide your body with the materials it needs to repair your joints, balance your immune system and reduce inflammation.

If you or a loved one are struggling with arthritis, consider exploring the benefits of functional medicine to manage this condition. Kickstart your journey towards better joint health today.

Why helping support athritis is important to us

References

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