Arthritis and Natural Medicine

Arthritis is the major source of chronic pain in Australia and is one of the targets of the Government’s Chronic Disease Strategy. There are over 100 different types of arthritis with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout making up 95% of all cases.  Although different conditions, all forms of arthritis involves pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints and or muscles. There is no cure for arthritis so the focus is on effective management. Like all of the chronic conditions I have discussed, shedding excess kilos usually has an immediate impact especially on weight bearing joints in the feet, knees and hips. For some the role of diet can be crucial. Some people’s pain and inflammation is aggravated by specific foods such as excessive tomato, eggplant, potato and capsicum. Gout has specific dietary triggers such as excess beer, meat, shellfish, beans, lentils and fructose. The naturopathic model understands that inflammation and pain is  aggravated by excess animal fats, simple sugars, alcohol, tea and coffee.

One of the most important factors in living with arthritis is staying active. Physical activity can maintain muscle strength and joint flexibility. Where pain or inflammation is restricting daily activities then medication can have a role to maintain activity and quality of life. A number of herbs and nutrients have a key role in arthritis. While research continues to be a little ambiguous regarding glucosamine and chondroiton, this does not stop many people finding that pain, especially in the knees, responds after four to six weeks of treatment. Fish oil is much better understood to reduce the inflammation and stiffness associated with inflamed joints. It is now available in high concentrations (equivalent to 6-14 capsules depending on the brand) and can be effective. Also naturopathically a professionally supervised liver detox and gut repair programme can address the fatigue and inflammation that often accompanies prolonged poor lifestyle and dietary choices. Herbs such as turmeric, celery seeds, ginger and medicinally, boswellia can also help pain and inflammation. Acupuncture is another major treatment that has been shown to be effective especially in osteoarthritis of the knee; and is also beneficial for pain and inflammation anywhere in the body.

As with all of the chronic diseases discussed in recent months, the key to better health is in proactively making changes to dietary and lifestyle choices, and accessing professional advice when necessary. The aim is to achieve and maintain a state of wellness and vitality and not wait until illness develops when change can be so much harder to achieve.