There is plenty of proof that although osteoarthritis is common, it is definitively not normal! Today’s research has clearly established that osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease (DJD), needs to be categorized as a disease of the cartilage not a normal part of the aging process. If we all thought of it as an actual disease, we might think differently as to how to treat it.
Instead of thinking of osteoarthritis as an inevitable result of aging, lets take measures to target the causative agent - low-grade inflammation.
Osteoarthritis is the result of degradation of cartilage cells called chondrocytes. Cartilage caps the ends of bones where it articulates with another bone to form a joint. The cartilage in these locations serves several functions. It allows for a teflon type of joint surface that protects the underlying bone surface. Cartilage is also the site of synovial fluid production. Synovial fluid is critical for the lubrication within the joint that allows for smooth gliding of bone and provides nutrition for the joint tissue. When there’s damage to the cartilage, that’s the beginning of compromised function in that joint - loss of nourishment to the tissue, development of the characteristic arthritic bony growths called osteophytes as the underlying bone is no longer protected by the cartilage covering and loss of joint space that becomes the inevitable “bone-on-bone”.
Many factors can cause or initiate the degradation of cartilage. It can be the end-result of trauma to the joint that results in poor healing and derangement of the joint if those issues don’t get addressed early enough in the healing process or the damage is just too severe. It can also be lack of proper nutrition like too much carbohydrate in the diet, not enough quality protein and healthy fat; inadequate amounts of the anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids, like the Omega 3 oils; or food reactions to gluten, nightshade or dairy. It can also be the result of “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability. Ironically, many of the medications recommended for management of arthritic symptoms, like Ibuprofen, aspirin and other NSAIDs, actually promote the development of leaky gut leading to a vicious cycle of damage to the lining of the small intestine leading to activation of the immune system at the gut lining and subsequently inflammation. There are also contributions from how we use (or don’t use) our body. Inactivity and sedentary jobs also contribute to the development of osteoarthritis.
The bottom line is that regardless of how osteoarthritis gets initiated, the ultimate result is production of inflammatory chemicals, called cytokines, that target and damage the cartilage. What’s important to know is that this inflammatory process is not inevitable, it can be curtailed and in many cases reversed. Identifying your unique triggers is key. There’s a lot you can do on your own. Here’s a list to help you get started:
Try eliminating the nightshade family of veggies (white potatoes, eggplants, peppers including sweet, bell and chiles, tomatoes and tomatillos) for 2 weeks to see if your arthritic symptoms improve.
If you’re ready for it, try an elimination diet for 3 weeks of the most common foods causing sensitivity - gluten grains, dairy products, soy, corn. Remember to do a focused and targeted re-introduction after first 3 weeks of elimination. For convenience you can certainly eliminate the nightshades at the same time.
Reduce your use of medications, like the NSAIDs, that perpetuate the development of the leaky gut by using some of the nutritional and herbal natural anti-inflammatories. You may need to cycle through a couple different formulas to find the best one for you. Start with products that use specially formulated curcurmin combined with other natural anti-inflammatory ingredients. Inflavonoid by Metagenics is a good place to start.
Some forms of arthritis respond very well to glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplementation. To ensure best response, make sure to take a strong enough dose (minimum of 1000 mg and 800mg respectively) and to use it for a minimum of three months. Be aware that this product is not appropriate for those with shellfish allergy. I like to use a product that adds MSM to further support those chondrocytes and adds an element of pain relief. I often recommend either ChondroCare by Metagenics or Glucosamine/MSM by Karuna.
Many foods can be healing for the leaky gut. Bone broth is number one on the list for leaky gut repair due to its rich collagen content. Consider using a non-denatured whey protein powder (as long as you are not dairy sensitive) in your morning smoothie. Get rid of the plant-based oils that are high in the Omega 6 essential fatty acids (like canola, soybean, safflower oils) in favor of avocados, nuts and seeds, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and coconut butter.
Improve your gut microbiome by eating at least one serving a day of probiotic foods and prebiotic foods. Probiotic foods are fermented or cultured foods that contain colonies of the beneficial bacteria that we want to take up residence in the large intestine. Plain, non-sweetened yogurt and kefir (both are available in dairy and non-dairy forms), tempeh, natto and fermented veggies like kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented carrots/beets, etc. Prebiotic foods are the high fiber foods that actually feed your beneficial bacteria. Asparagus, onions, legumes, radicchio, artichoke and dandelion greens are examples of quality prebiotic foods. See here for a more complete list of both Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods.
For a more targeted approach, consider having a chiropractic evaluation to determine whether the biomechanics of the arthritic joint can be corrected with appropriate adjusting and soft tissue techniques that balance the involved muscles. Dr. Gosselin’s treatment plan for Joint Restoration also includes the use of low-level laser which is extremely beneficial to down-regulate the inflammation and promote cartilage healing. Specific joint stabilization and strengthening exercises as well as assessing your posture and the possible need for supportive orthotics can complete your customized approach.