By Susan Blum, M.D., MPH
Think arthritis only affects the elderly? Think again. By 2030, an estimated 580 million people worldwide, ages 18 and older, will have been diagnosed with the disease. Pretty eye-opening, right?
Conventional medicine tends to treat arthritis with strong, immune-suppressing medications that temporarily relieve the symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, I’ve seen how these medications can also damage your gut and how they fail to truly address the root cause of the issue. This World Arthritis Day, it’s time to make a change. I’m here to tell you that there’s another way—a way that’s designed to address the underlying causes—in order to reduce inflammation without medication. Here’s how:
1. You can treat all kinds of arthritis with one approach.
There are more than a dozen different kinds of arthritis, and while there are certainly differences in conventional understanding and treatment for each one, they all have common root causes and triggers for inflammation and pain. For example, the two most common diagnoses are rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA). While RA is considered an inflammatory (autoimmune) disease and OA is typically thought of as the result of “wear and tear” and injury to the joint, both of these conditions are influenced by lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise. No matter what kind of arthritis you have, it’s important to know that it can be made worse by inflammation that starts elsewhere in the body, including the gut. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Heal the gut, and you heal the joints.
You may have heard some talk about gut health—and the gut-brain connection or the gut-pain connection—and you’ve probably heard the word “microbiome,” or the friendly bacteria in your body. Fascinating studies have confirmed that the root cause of your arthritis is most likely lurking in your digestive system, so to heal your joints, you must first heal your gut. But where do you start? The best first step is to take a probiotic daily to help remove the harmful microbes that might be causing your symptoms, but some require a more intensive plan.
3. Treat your terrain with inflammation-fighting foods.
A fresh start for your microbiome means a new chance to influence your “terrain,” or what I think of as the body’s deepest soil, where cells either thrive or wither. There’s a strong connection between your diet, your gut microbiome, and your pain level, so I recommend choosing foods that fight inflammation like organic plants and foods high in fiber and healthy fats, while avoiding refined sugars, dairy products, and red meats. Here are some of my guiding principles:
Increase fiber, micronutrients, and phytonutrients, or, in less-scary terms, eat more vegetables and fruits, and choose organic whenever possible.
Reduce refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and refined grains.
Improve the quality of fat by removing refined oils and hydrogenated fats.
Improve the quality of the animal protein you eat by choosing 100 percent grass-fed and finished beef, free-range chicken, and sustainably farmed, low-mercury fish.
Limit salt, food dyes, and preservatives (which happens naturally when you limit processed foods).
4. Carve out time for daily stress-reduction activities.
Traumatic events and ongoing stress are very real triggers for inflammatory diseases. In our go-go-go world, we’re always rushing; we can’t miss this deadline or that meeting, and we very rarely take the time to sit back, relax, and let our minds reset. Diet and stress are two root causes of a damaged gut, inflammation, and chronic disease, so it’s no surprise that in order to heal your arthritis naturally, you must take time to practice your favorite stress reduction activities daily. I recommend meditation, yoga, long walks through nature, and journaling to ease the mind.