What can Natural Medicine do for Arthritis?

September 3, 2015

While there are many forms of arthritis the most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.  The common features of the arthritic illnesses include joint pain, stiffness and inflammation.  Nearly 1 in 3 adults are affected by osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, which is the most prevalent.  The primary risk factor is aging.  The second most prevalent form is rheumatoid arthritis which affects 3-4% of the population including children.  Gout affects the small joints of the hands and feet and is more prevalent among men.  Less common forms of arthritis include psoriatic arthritis, infectious arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

What causes arthritis?

There are many factors contributing to arthritis and that combination is individual.

  • Leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability
  • Food allergies
  • Dysbiosis
  • Accumulation of toxins in the body
  • Parasites, bacterial and yeast infections
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Immune dysfunction leading to an autoimmune reaction, which means the body becomes allergic to its own tissues.
  • Biomechanical stress

Osteoarthritis causes a breakdown of cartilage.  Cartilage protects the ends of bones from rubbing against each other.  Early symptoms begin with mild pain, stiffness and crepitus, a grinding sound, which can in turn lead to the development of bone spurs causing more pain and joint breakdown.  While it is commonly thought that wear and tear is the cause of osteoarthritis, research points to biochemical processes contributing to changes in the biomechanics of joints and muscles.  Free radicals are a major cause of damage to healthy connective tissue in all kinds of arthritis.  Free radicals are generated by stress including biochemical, physical, emotional/mental and environmental toxins.  Excess body weight affects the joints especially the knees and hips.  For each excess pound of body weight, three pounds of pressure is added to the knees and six pounds added to the hips.  When there is chronic stress, the adrenals produce high levels of cortisol instead of DHEA.  Prolonged exposure to steroids can result in bone degeneration, accumulation of fat and muscle breakdown.  Nutrient deficiencies may be involved as a direct or indirect result of cartilage deficiencies.  For example, when joints lose their full range of motion, OA is more likely to develop.  Compromised mobility decreases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the cartilage, which then leads to breakdown. Diet significantly affects pain and inflammation.  Decreasing fried foods and increasing omega-3 fatty acids decreases inflammation.  Many people who suffer from arthritis have an allergy to the nightshade family, which includes peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.  Other common food allergies include dairy, gluten, soy and eggs.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease where the immune system attacks the joints and connective tissue.  In the early stages, the synovial membrane swells and the joint becomes both inflamed and swollen.  Commonly, RA affects both sides of the body.  Symptoms include chronic aches, stiffness, muscle weakness, fatigue and depression.  As the disease progresses the joints become thick and deformed.  The cause of RA is multi-factorial including food allergies, toxicity, intestinal permeability and microorganisms causing inflammation.  Many viruses and bacteria have been implicated in RA including Borrelia burgdorferi (the spirochete involved in Lyme disease).  In addition to the nightshades, both brewers and baker’s yeast, as well as gluten, corn and eggs have been known to trigger RA.

Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid, which deposit crystals in the joint spaces between bones.  Crystals typically appear in the great toe however they can also appear in the ankles, wrists, knees and elbows.  Raised bumps can be seen on the affected joints.  Gout is characterized by episodes of excruciating pain, redness and inflammation.  Moving the joint is severely uncomfortable.  The main cause is high levels of uric acid.  This can occur as the result of poor diet, underlying kidney disease, biochemical abnormalities or genetic factors.

How do I know if I have arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is most commonly diagnosed by symptoms.  Rheumatoid arthritis is typically diagnosed by several tests conventionally, RF factor (present in 70% of cases), elevated CRP, increased homocysteine, elevated hyaluronic acid level, high levels of various immune markers.

What can I do to begin to heal my arthritis?

  1. I recommend that you begin with dietary changes and eat primarily a vegetarian, whole foods (unprocessed) diet high in vegetables and fruits, raw seeds and nuts, fish (trout, salmon, cod, halibut, sardines) and grains (quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth, teff). You can include small amounts of free range beef or organic chicken. I have found that it is easier to start making changes one meal at a time.
  2. Multivitamin-multimineral without copper or iron
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids – 3 grams daily
  4. Adrenal tonic
  5. High quality botanical anti-inflammatory formula along with a topical botanical analgesic formula.
  6. MSM, Glucosamine sulfate
  7. Vitamin E (1,000 IUs) and selenium (400 – 600mcg) – both antioxidants.
  8. Exercise daily spending time to stretch


If you have gout, stop vitamin C and niacin during an acute attack.  Eat ½ pound of organic cherries or blueberries daily.

I recommend that you see an integrative health care provider who will search for the underlying cause.  This involves a comprehensive history/exam and as appropriate may include testing to look at digestive functioning, liver function, thyroid function, food allergy testing, adrenal function, nutrient deficiencies, parasites, metal toxicity and possibly Lyme disease.  Once you begin this process, there are steps to take around detoxification, rebuilding your cartilage and in the case of RA calming your immune system.

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Understanding Naturopathic Primary Care

Dr. Moira Fitzpatrick, a specialist in naturopathic care and holistic medicine, promoting well-being and integrative health practices