Arthritis means "inflammation of a joint." The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is the "wear and tear" type that usually develops as you age. Another form is rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease—meaning the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. In this case the tissue under attack is the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints.
Oftentimes, joint problems occur because the cartilage surfaces inside joints have little, if any, direct blood supply. Think of this cartilage as a sponge. It gets most of its nutrients for repair from the fluid within the joint capsule itself, called synovial fluid. Synovial fluid contains a couple of compounds called hyaluronic acid and lubricin. (Lubricin is created in the thin layer of tissue that lines the joints. If this liner becomes inflamed, then lubricin production breaks down and may even stop. The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis destroys lubricin.)
As the joint is moved through its full range of motion, the "sponge" is compressed and released. This action helps squeeze out waste material from the cartilage cells. And, just as a sponge sucks in water, nutrients are pulled into the cartilage cells when pressure on the cartilage is released.
The synovial fluid also provides lubrication and shock absorption for your joints. Thus, nourishing your synovial fluid is important for supporting healthy joints and treating rheumatoid arthritis naturally.
Staying hydrated is a good first step. For the sponge to be "cushiony," it needs to be filled with water. Obviously, that requires drinking plenty of water—half a gallon per day is not unreasonable for most people. Eliminating or cutting back on diuretic beverages can also help keep you better hydrated. These include soft drinks, tea, alcohol, and coffee.
And speaking of coffee, one study found that, among the 4,641 individuals who drank three or fewer cups of coffee a day, only 0.4 percent developed rheumatoid arthritis compared to 0.8 percent of 14,340 individuals who drank four or more cups a day. It’s possible that other lifestyle or diet factors played as significant a role as coffee, but when it comes to caffeinated products, moderation is the best approach—especially when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis.
Lots of drugs also exhibit a diuretic effect, particularly water pills used to control blood pressure. Additionally, a diet rich in protein and fat promotes fluid loss. (Urea, a byproduct of protein, is a well-known diuretic.)
Try eating more foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates. Beans, legumes, and whole grains absorb and retain water. Pretty much any high-fiber food will help tremendously, including vegetables (particularly raw), whole fruits (the pectin content in apples makes them especially helpful), and sprouted seeds. As they move through the intestinal tract, they provide a “reservoir” from which the body can pull water as it is needed. By the time most foods reach the large intestine, about the only thing being absorbed at that point is water.
Nutrients that Naturally Treat Arthritis Pain
The following nutrients can help to naturally treat arthritis pain.
- Niacinamide. In years of research dating as far back as the 1930s, Dr. William Kaufman documented hundreds of cases of severely immobilized patients with arthritis who became mobile and self-sufficient after long-term niacinamide therapy. Although niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) is not considered an anti-inflammatory compound or analgesic, apparently its ability to trigger repair of joint surfaces dramatically reduces pain and inflammation.
For moderate joint dysfunction, take 250 mg every three hours for a total of six dosages a day (1,500 mg taken over an 18-hour period). For severe joint dysfunction, take 250 mg every two hours for eight doses (2,000 mg taken over a 16-hour period). For extremely severe joint dysfunction, take 250 mg every 1.5 hours for 10 doses, making a total of 2,500 mg a day. (In these cases, the dosage may even be increased to 250 mg every hour for 16 hours, for a total of 4,000 mg a day.)
Start at the dosage level related to the category of joint dysfunction you believe you have. If you are not feeling relief after 6 to 8 weeks, bump up to the next dosage level.
To be most effective, niacinamide must be taken at short, regular intervals during the day. For example, taking 500 mg three times a day works out to 1,500 mg, but your results will not be nearly as effective as taking 250 mg every three hours. The latter approach keeps blood levels consistent throughout the day, which is the key to niacinamide working correctly. For the most part, niacinamide works gradually and gently. You may not notice changes right away, but it is important that you stay with the program. Even after symptoms have improved, Dr. Kaufman felt that a maintenance dose of 250 mg every three hours, six times daily should be taken for life.
I do not recommend taking time-released niacinamide because time-released products can cause liver problems and you would need to get periodic tests to monitor your liver function.
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin. Glucosamine sulfate works by building the proteins that make up healthy cartilage. These proteins bind to water, which is critical for proper joint lubrication. Stiffness and aching in joints are signs that these essential proteins are breaking down and, consequently, your cartilage is eroding. To help prevent this erosion, chondroitin sulfate provides a constant supply of the nutrients needed to repair damaged protein and build new protein. These fluids also serve as shock absorbers.
While glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are essential for healthy joints, they are just two members of a much larger family of mucopolysaccharides that are naturally found in all joint cartilage. Other compounds in the family include heparan sulfate, heparin, dermatan sulfate, keratan sulfate, and hyaluronan.
Many people have problems digesting glucosamine and chondroitin. Because sulfates can be difficult to break down, I also recommend taking the enzymes bromelain and papain to help take some of the stress off of the digestive system and ensure that the cartilage components are properly absorbed.
- Whey protein. Cartilage is high in protein, and if you don’t get enough protein, cartilage can't be repaired. Whey-based protein seems to be the best digested form.
- Lemon myrtle is one of the world's most concentrated sources of a potent substance called citral. Citral oil appears to have powerful antipathogenic qualities that enable it to get to the root of some arthritis problems. One of the most common and overlooked causes of arthritic pain is the buildup of toxic pathogens in the joints. Lemon myrtle works by carrying these toxins away from the joints.
- Aniseed myrtle, like lemon myrtle, contains some very complex antipathogenic compounds that counteract the buildup of toxins in the joints, and also has effective and completely safe anesthetizing properties that can reduce arthritic pain.
- Wild rosella. Similar to lemon and aniseed myrtle, wild rosella helps prevent arthritic pain and inflammation by neutralizing toxins that make it into the joints.
- DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) is a clear, colorless, slightly oily liquid with a faint smell of sulfur. It has been shown to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. I recommend that everyone keep a pint of 99.9 percent pure liquid DMSO on hand. DMSO should always be diluted with distilled water. In the majority of conditions, DMSO works best when it is in 70 to 90 percent concentrations—70 percent DMSO and 30 percent distilled water, or 90 percent DMSO and 10 percent distilled water. Using your fingers or a cotton ball or swab, dab or rub 1 to 3 teaspoons of DMSO directly to the skin where you are experiencing pain.
How to Naturally Treat Arthritis with Exercise
Joint health is very much a "use it or lose it" proposition. Moving the joints is especially important when it comes to treating rheumatoid arthritis naturally.
One of the best routines for restoring or maintaining joint mobility was developed by the Russian heart surgeon Dr. Nikolay Amosov. In the mid-1950s, Dr. Amosov developed the physical training system he called his "1,000 movements."
Here are directions for each of the activities in the current 1,000 Movements program. (The instructions have been adapted with permission from Super Joints by my friend Pavel Tsatsouline, © 2001 Dragon Door Publications). The ideal time to exercise arthritic joints is in the morning because it helps get rid of the stiffness and pain that are often felt when you first get out of bed.
The standard exercise (where you squat with your weight on the balls of your feet and your knees sticking out in front) can be very hard on your knees. For a safer and more comfortable version, stand in a doorway and hold onto the doorframe at about hip height, then sit back as if you were sitting in a chair. If you’re doing it correctly, your shins should stay nearly vertical. Once down and back up counts as one repetition. Work toward 100 of these.
Stand with your arms at your sides, palms facing inward. Move your trunk sideways and slide your palm down your leg. The other palm will slide up on that side of your body. Straighten your body and then bend it sideways the other way. When you’ve straightened your body again, you will have completed two repetitions. Make sure to not twist your trunk during this exercise (that will come later). Once to the left and once to the right counts as two repetitions. Work toward 100 of these.
You wouldn't think there was much "technique" involved in such a simple exercise, but there are several points to keep in mind. Keep your weight at the back of your hands near your wrists rather than on your fingertips. If this hurts your wrists, look for "pushup handles" at sporting goods stores, or hold onto dumbbells (hex-shaped ones so they won’t roll away). Once down and up counts as one repetition. Work toward 50 of these.
- Protect your back by keeping your bottom tucked in to keep it from sagging.
- Keep your hands at least shoulder-width apart to help protect your shoulders.
- Breathe in synchronization with your movement. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. If you don't breathe during movement, you can cause a spike in your blood pressure.
Stand upright, then bend over and try to touch the floor with your fingers (or even your palms). Exhale in on the way down, and inhale into your stomach on the way up. Sort of push off your thighs with your belly as you return to a standing position. If you do it right, the intra-abdominal pressure when rising on inhalation will straighten out your spine like a hydraulic jack—with minimal back stress. (Remember to bend your knees each time before returning to the upright position.) Tuck your chin in as you fold over, and tilt your head back as you stand up.
If you aren't sure how to use your diaphragm, or if you have a health condition that prohibits the standing toe touch, practice the exercise sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Reach forward on a sigh, sit up as you inhale. Once down and up counts as one repetition. Work toward 100 of these.
Straight Arm Raises
Simply raise your arms to the front, all the way up. (If you try this out to the side, you'll notice that you can’t get your arms all the way up. A part of your shoulder blade, called the acromion, gets in the way.) Both arms up and back down counts as one repetition. Work toward 100 of these.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold your arms in front of you at shoulder height with your palms facing outward and your fingers clasped. Keep your hips still and twist your torso clockwise, then counterclockwise, as far as you can. Be sure your arms and head move with your torso. This is mostly a stretching exercise, so don't "bounce" your trunk at the end of the movement or you could injure your back. Instead, push as far as you can in one direction before moving back. Once to the left and once to the right counts as two repetitions. Work toward 50 of these.
The old style of sit-ups that you learned in gym class will hurt your back over time. Instead, do abdominal crunches—where you only come partway up—and work directly on the floor or drape yourself over an exercise ball. The benefit of crunches is that you’ll naturally sort of roll yourself forward rather than trying to lift your entire upper body using your lower back.
Inhale as you come up and exhale as you go back—the opposite way from what you would expect. Exhaling as you lie back will relax your muscles and improve your range of motion. Once up and back down counts as one repetition. Work toward 100 of these.
Be sure to keep your knee bent as you hop on one leg, and flex the knee as you come down to absorb your weight. Do 5–10 repetitions on one leg, then switch to the other leg. Many people find it easier to do this exercise while holding on to some sturdy object for support.
You don't need to actually lift yourself off the ground with each jump, although you may find that over time, you’ll naturally end up going higher and higher. Work toward 50 of these on each leg.
Bringing the Elbows Back
Stand with your hands on your hips, palms facing in. Use the muscles in your upper back and biceps to push your elbows as far back as you can. Work toward 100 of these.
This is a preliminary exercise to the Birch Tree. Lie on your back in bed, and hold onto the headboard. Keep your legs reasonably straight, and raise them as far toward your head as you can. Your weight should remain on your shoulders and upper back, not your neck. If you prefer to do this exercise on a floor or mat, you can keep your balance by putting your hands down at your sides and pressing your palms into the floor. Once up and back down counts as one repetition. Work toward 100 of these.
The "birch tree" is a Russian name for the yoga sarvangasana pose or the shoulder stand. In this exercise, you will point your legs toward the ceiling. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Lift your legs and place your hands in the small of your back. Prop your body on your forearms and point your legs and toes straight up. Your weight should be on your shoulders and upper back, rather than your neck. (Note that you only need to do one repetition of this exercise, held for a count of 100. You may want to use a friend as a spotter the first few times you try this. Women should avoid it altogether during menstruation or pregnancy.)
Sucking in the Stomach
Pull in all the muscles from below your ribcage down to your pubic bone—as though you were trying to squeeze through a tight space. Hold for a count of three and push out. If you exhale as you’re tightening and inhale as you push out, you’ll naturally develop a proper diaphragmatic breathing pattern. Once in and out counts as one repetition. Work toward 50 of these.
Obviously, the exercises and repetitions you can perform will depend largely on your age and ability. If you're not in the best shape, then start with 10 repetitions of each exercise a day and begin to add another 5–10 each week until you reach 1,000 total movements.
As you increase the number of repetitions, make sure the movements are done at a fairly steady and rapid pace so that you're getting a little cardiovascular benefit as well. However, don't sacrifice form for speed. Again, the primary purpose of these exercises is to achieve full range of motion for each joint. You should be able to complete the entire 1,000 movements in about 25–45 minutes.