Nutritional Program for Arthritis

When patients come to me for advice about specific medical problems, they usually have been told that they need medication or surgery, and they are seeking ways to avoid those treatments. Sometimes they have already tried medications, which have produced significant side effects.

Usually, they have many treatment alternatives but they have no information about their choices. One example of effective alternatives is the reduction in blood pressure that meditation produces. Others are the dietary changes and exercise programs that lead to lowered cholesterol. Since the medical treatments for these two conditions are often more dangerous than the problems, it is worth seeking safer alternatives.

Dr. Dean Ornish has shown that patients with heart disease can often avoid surgery and reverse their heart disease with a combination of a low-fat diet, meditation, and exercise. Norman Cousins healed his ankylosing spondylitis (a form of arthritis of the spine) with laughter and high doses of vitamin C. He wrote about his experience in the New England Journal of Medicine, and followed this article with a book, The Anatomy of an Illness. Many patients have cured their digestive disturbances simply by avoiding certain foods.

Over and over, we are seeing the results of lifestyle changes in health care. A recent scientific medical conference put on by the American College for Advancement in Medicine was entitled: Lifestyle Medicine—Medicine for the Nineties. Researchers and physicians both attended and taught at this scientific meeting. Much of it related to the role of dietary supplements in medical therapy.

Dietary supplements are among the safest and most effective choices in health care. They are almost free of side effects, they are easy to take, they are relatively inexpensive, and they usually enhance many life functions besides the specific condition for which they are being given. Following is an example of how nutritionally oriented physicians might use supplements as part of the treatment for a specific health problem. This is a suggestion that is supported in the medical literature and in the experience of many physicians.

Remember this is an example, not a prescription for you, and the supplement list is in addition to many other health practices. Other supplements may be helpful, and you may not need all of these to get results. For more information on any one supplement, look for its description in Dietary Supplements. No one program is appropriate for everybody, but these suggestions are good starting points from which individual programs can be modified.

Arthritis Treatment Programs

Inflammation or deterioration of the joints, with progressive destruction of the joint cartilage, is responsible for much of the disability of the elderly, although it also affects younger people. As the cartilage gets worn away, the bones of the joints rub on each other and cause varying degrees of pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the result of connective tissue destruction by immune complexes formed when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue. This is called autoimmunity, which is poor regulation (or dysregulation) of immune function, not simply increased activity. Some dietary supplements that enhance immune activity actually relieve rheumatoid arthritis and reduce joint destruction, since they help restore normal immune regulation.

Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than men, and occurs in relatively young people, most commonly starting in the thirties and forties. It is commonly associated with other immune system disorders, such as dry eye syndrome (Sjögren’s syndrome) and Raynaud’s phenomenon (blood vessel spasms in the hands or feet precipitated by exposure to cold).

Food allergies commonly play a role in causing rheumatoid arthritis. Although many physicians and the well-known national arthritis organizations often say that diet has nothing to do with arthritis, clinical experience and a number of research articles have shown otherwise. Healthy diets and avoiding food allergens are important components of arthritis treatment. Allergy tests can help pinpoint which foods to avoid. In my experience, dairy products and meats make symptoms worse, possibly because of allergy and possibly because land-animal fats can increase inflammation.

Other immune arthritis conditions include ankylosing spondylitis (arthritis of the spine) and arthritis associated with psoriasis.

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is more common than rheumatoid arthritis and is the result of wear and tear, infection or joint injury. After the age of 70, there is X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis in 85% of Americans, although some of them may have no symptoms. It is often helped by the same dietary supplements that relieve rheumatoid arthritis. The following supplements are often helpful for relieving symptoms and restoring joint integrity:

Basic Multiple Formula 3 3
Vitamin C 1000 mg 3 3
Magnesium aspartate 200 mg 1 1
Niacinamide 500 mg 2 2
GLA 240 mg (from borage oil) 1
EPA fish oil 1000 mg 2 2
Vitamin E 400 IU natural mixed 1 1
Glucosamine sulfate 500 mg 2 2
Proanthocyanidins 50 mg mixed 1 1

There are many reports of other supplements that sometimes help arthritis. They include extracts of sea cucumber, green-lipped mussel, and cartilage—from either shark or calf (bovine) sources. Some of my patients have reported benefits from these supplements. However, so far I am not as impressed with these products as with those in the program outlined above.

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Written by Michael Janson MD

Explore Wellness in 2021