Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that affects 1 in 10 Canadians. The cartilage wears away over time and this loss of cushioning allows bones to rub together which causes pain, swelling, stiffness, decrease range of motion and even bone spurs. Osteoarthritis most often occurs in the hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips.
Traditional conventional treatment of OA is to manage pain by taking medication. However with Naturopathic Medicine, various natural modalities are utilized including Clinical Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Botanical Medicine, and Homeopathic Medicine. These treatments focus on decreasing inflammation in the body and are very effective. Inflammation is made worse by food sensitivities, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, chronic constipation, obesity, and toxicity.
If you are suffering from OA pain, it is beneficial to limit your intake of sugar and white flour, as they contribute to inflammation and can irritate the tissue surrounding joints. Also cut back on your consumption of fried and processed foods, cow’s milk, salt, corn oil, caffeine and alcohol.
Treatment for OA often begins with identifying food sensitivities as they can make conditions worse as the immune system reacts to certain foods by producing antibodies. Many people are unaware that they have food sensitivities because an allergic reaction can take up to 36 hours to produce symptoms. Therefore it is best to get a definitive diagnosis using a blood test from a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.)
The antioxidant Vitamin C taken for a long period of time can reduce swollen and painful joints, as it is necessary for cartilage development. Consume at least 2000mg of ascorbic acid daily in a powder form, and be sure the brand you choose does not contain any added ingredients such as sugar (found in chewable forms of vitamin C), artificial colours or magnesium stearate.
Vitamin D3 taken in a liquid form at 2000IU daily can help prevent the breakdown of cartilage and decrease the risk of joint space narrowing. It is best to get your blood tested to see if you are deficient in vitamin D so that your N.D. can recommend an adequate therapeutic dosage of vitamin D for you to take.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids are precursors to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which suppress the production of cytokines and enzymes that breakdown cartilage. It is best to choose a brand of fish oil that is 3rd party tested to not contain any heavy metals, especially mercury. The dosage of EPA should be at least 2000mg daily.
Glucosamine sulfate is a precursor to cartilage found in joints and helps to protect the body and relieve pain. Be sure to purchase a supplement that is sodium-free, and take at least 1500mg daily.
Botanical Medicine can also combat inflammation to promote healing and detoxification. Herbs include boswellia, cat’s claw, devil’s claw, stinging nettle, and milk thistle. There are also anti-inflammatory benefits to cooking with ginger, turmeric, and rosemary. Naturopathic Doctors take into consideration your digestion and ability to absorb vitamins, minerals, and herbs, as well as ensure that there is no contraindication between your supplements and the pharmaceutical drugs that you are currently taking. Therefore, it is important that you take the correct dosage for maximum benefit, the most absorbable form of each vitamin and/or herb so that your treatment is effective in decreasing your pain and preventing OA from getting worse over time.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help balance Qi (energy flow) to reduce inflammation and pain. This includes acupuncture, cupping and dietary recommendations. For example, during the winter months it is advised that you avoid cold foods such as salads, and eat more warming foods like steamed vegetables and soup instead. This is helpful in TCM for digestion, and will lessen “damp cold” that accumulates in the joints.
Acupuncture is used to help detoxify the body by strengthening the digestive system, liver and gallbladder to rid dietary wastes. Pain is also diminished by way of acupuncture releasing endorphins thus increasing heat and activating circulation directly to the joints.
Homeopathic Medicine is also helpful in managing OA pain as it stimulates the body’s vital force to promote self-healing. Potencies that are most effective are 200CH or MK.
Accumulation of toxins in the liver can also make OA worse, as can stress and negative emotions such as anger, depression, and worry. To improve your digestion, eat a balanced, organic diet and be sure to have at least 2 bowel movements a day. Exercise can also help to move the lymphatic system and circulation in the body, which is beneficial to joint health. Breathing exercises, meditation, swimming, yoga, tai chi, and qi qong are good choices.
By: Dr. Andrea A. Hornyak, B.A. (Psych.), N.D.