Got Pain? Heal Your Joints Naturally

Whether it’s a hot, burning pain, cracking or crunching in the joint, or just stiffness, joint pain can keep us from activities that we enjoy. Up to 55 million Americans experience this kind of pain on a regular basis. According to the CDC, that number is growing by 1 million each year. There are over 600,000 knee and hip replacements each year in the U.S., and almost 50% of these are for people under the age of 65! Clearly we need better tools to address this growing problem.

Arthritis is a catch-all term for several different conditions that result in joint pain. The most common of these is osteoarthritis, typically diagnosed in individuals over 50 or those with previous injury or over-use (such as with athletics).  The joints break down without the compensatory replacement of cartilage and other joint material.  Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and conversely, is characterized by generalized inflammation.  It can affect younger individuals, and can result in pain throughout the body, even small joints like the hands and wrists. Gout, ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, lyme disease, and psoriatic arthritis can also produce arthritis-like symptoms.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the most common Western treatment for arthritis.  NSAIDs include over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Medipren & Nuprin) and naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox & Naprosyn) and prescription medications like Celebrex and corticosteroids. These medications reduce inflammation and hence pain but do little to rebuild the joint.  According to Best Pills, Worst Pills, NSAIDs can cause serious side effects including gastrointestinal bleeding resulting in hemorrhage, increased risk of heart attack, and worsening of heart failure and kidney problems. In my own experience, NSAIDs and cortisone shots are quite temporary in the relief they provide.  Narcotic pain relievers can reduce pain, but have serious side effects including cardiac toxicity, potential addiction, and memory impairment.

Natural remedies, conversely, are quite safe and promote true healing for these chronic conditions. Remedies target joint repair and inflammation, which go hand-in hand in terms of healing the joints.   Some simple rules apply for finding the solution that will work best for you:

  • Always take into consideration prescription drugs you are on for any reason.  Certain nutrients and herbs are contraindicated with prescription drugs.
  • If you are on multiple prescription drugs, consider using homeopathic medicines as these do not interact with drugs.
  • Herbs have multiple actions in the body due to their many constituents, so choose an herb that will give you more than one benefit.  By way of example, sour cherry juice is excellent for removing uric acid from the joints (known as gout).  It is also high in melatonin and potassium, aiding healthier sleep and heart health, respectively.

Repairing the Joint

Certain nutrients are essential to the maintenance of joints because they promote the formation cartilage, tendons, muscle and joint fluid, they protect against oxidative stress in the joints, and they relax muscles that can put pressure on joints.  A great way to take these nutrients is to find a formula that combines several of them. Stop by and our staff can help you choose the one that’s best for you. Combo formulas we love are Mobili-T by Life Seasons, Joint Relief by Redd Remedies, and Curamin by Terry Naturally.

Hyaluronic acid is a compound found in the joints that acts as a water magnet, lubricating the joint when present.  Its absence is indicated by a crunching and grinding sound in the joint.  It is also excellent for skin maintenance due to its hydrating abilities.

MSM (or methylsulfonylmethane) is a naturally occurring compound found in green plants such as horsetail, algae, fruits, vegetables and grains and is also a part of many joint supplements.  MSM is a natural source of sulfur, an integral component of cartilage.  It promotes joint repair, prevents joint deterioration, and reduces inflammation.  MSM can be taken by itself or in combination with glucosamine/chondroitin.  The recommended dose is 800-3000 mg per day.

Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM) naturally contains chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and collagen, all important joint building materials.  In one clinical study, NEM reduced joint pain by an average of 72% and improved flexibility by 44% after 30 days of use, without side effects. It is available by itself or in a formula with anti-inflammatory herbs including turmeric and boswellia.

Magnesium relaxes the body and can benefit arthritis sufferers by preventing tremors and spasms that cause stress on the joints.  Magnesium is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the United States.  A safe dose for most people is 400 to 800 mg.  Magnesium may cause diarrhea in large doses, but forms like magnesium glycinate can lessen this effect.

Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body uses to make compounds found in tendons, cartilage, ligaments and synovial (joint) fluid.  Many studies have linked the use of glucosamine to the resolution of pain related to mild to moderate arthritis.  It is often found in combination with chondroitin, also a natural component of joint material.  A dose of 1000 to 1500 mg per day is recommended, along with 500 to 750 mg of chondroitin.  Those with asthma or high blood sugar should consult their practitioners, as the use of these supplements has been linked to a worsening of these conditions.  Glucosamine sulfate typically comes from shellfish, so if you have an allergy choose glucosamine HCL instead.

Vitamin C is very important to the formation of connective tissue in the body.  Taking 1000-2000 mg 2-3 times daily can help rebuild joint tissue. Vitamin C also promotes skin and immune health and is a great antioxidant.

Put Out the Fire of Inflammation

Inflammation is required for healing, but becomes detrimental when it is in excess. Herbs, fatty acids and several other nutrients are effective for reducing excess inflammation and may have other benefits to the body, as noted below. You must always check herbs and targeted nutrients for potential interactions with drugs you take for any reason.

Fish oils and GLA will help curb inflammation.  Fish oils contain omega-3s that break down to the useful components EPA and DHA, which have numerous studies supporting their anti-inflammatory effects. The other benefits of fish oils include but are not limited to providing lubrication to the joint, bolstering eye health, reducing blood lipids, thinning the blood, and bolstering the health of every cell membrane. Doses of 1200-5000 mg may be recommended, depending on your situation. GLA can be found in black currant seed oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil.  These oils are often recommended for menopausal and premenstrual symptoms, and thus will provide additional benefit for women.

Boswellia is an ayurvedic herb that deactivates hormonal triggers for inflammation.  It shrinks inflamed tissue by stimulating the growth of cartilage.  The active ingredient in boswellia is the boswellic acids, so it should be standardized to contain 60-65% boswellic acids. This herb is well-studied for its anti-inflammatory action.

Turmeric is an herb that is anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving.  Its active ingredient curcumin is now a much-studied compound and has been found to have wide-ranging beneficial effects on the body.  It is an antioxidant, especially for the small joints in the body.  It is thought to switch off the protein that triggers joint swelling and destruction.  It has been found to have beneficial effects for inflammatory bowel disease, heart health and even cancer.  Turmeric is difficult to absorb, so make sure you buy a brand that prepares the herb to increase bioavailability by adding black pepper extract, extracting the curcumin, or using a patented extract called BCM-95.

Proteolytic enzymes are proteins that perform thousands of different functions in the body, including the regulation of a normal inflammation response.  Proteolytic enzyme formulas assist in balancing this process and in doing so can help control unhealthy inflammation.

Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple that has anti-inflammatory properties.  It is also excellent for inflammation in the sinuses and digestive tract.  Take 500 mg 3 times daily.

Montmorency cherries in concentrated juice, capsule or whole cherry form, are a great healer for joints.  They are especially known for clearing uric acid, the prime cause of gout.  Cherries have the added benefit of promoting sleep because they are high in melatonin. They are also high in potassium, which is crucial to heart health.

Pycnogenol, a pine bark extract, inhibits COX-2 and LOX-5, two pro-inflammatory pathways in the body.  It also counteracts the degradation of the protein matrix of the bones.  It also promotes skin health, is an antioxidant, and lowers C-reactive protein, making it important to heart health.  Pycnogenol is not recommended if you have rheumatoid arthritis as it may have immune-stimulating effects.

Homeopathic Aids & Topical Medicines

Individual homeopathic remedies such as Rhus Tox or Bryonia are commonly used for arthritic complaints.   Combination homeopathic formulas are available that are effective for a variety of people.  Zeel or Traumeel are two such formulas, the former being indicated for osteoarthritis and the latter being indicated in cases of over-use or injury.  Both of these formulas can also be found in topical form as an ointment or gel. Arnica, Topricin, and Tiger Balm also give topical relief.

Dietary Suggestions

A change in diet may not be enough to completely relieve pain and rebuild joints, but it can definitely lessen pain.  Eat lots of fiber in the form of vegetables and low-acid fruit, which will help sweep away mineral and acid build-up and keep the digestive system free of harmful bacteria.  Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower also have anti-inflammatory properties.  Other vegetables like asparagus, cabbage, garlic and onion are rich in sulfur, an important component of connective tissue, so eat up on those!!  Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme helpful in fighting inflammation.  Tart red cherries, as mentioned above, have pain-reducing effects.

Joint pain can be a reflection of too much acid in the diet, so eat foods that are alkalinizing, like most fruits and vegetables.  Foods or beverages that are very alkaline and are considered “rescue” foods include any kind of melon, a good quality mineral water like Pellegrino, most greens, chestnuts and pumpkin seeds, seaweeds, lemon or lime juice, and onions. Foods and beverages that you will want to lessen or avoid include red meat, saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, sugar, foods high in gluten (pasta, breads and pastries), refined carbohydrates, dairy, caffeine, soda pop, and alcohol.  All of these foods are known to increase inflammation in the body if used frequently, or if you have a particular sensitivity to them.

Food sensitivities can also be a culprit in joint pain. I find that gluten aggravates my joints. If I stay away from it, I have no joint pain. Identifying food allergies can be difficult as symptoms can be removed from the ingestion of the food by several days. Keeping a food diary can assist you. Note your symptoms relative to the foods you are eating within the next 3-4 day period. Undigested proteins from milk, soy, gluten, corn and peanuts are common food sensitivities.

The nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, white potatoes and eggplant) can aggravate arthritis symptoms in some people.  They have a substance called solanine in them that can interfere with the enzymes in the muscles, causing discomfort.

Overall toxicity can cause joint pain, so doing a periodic detoxification program can reduce symptoms. Andrew Weil did a study of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers and found that a 3-5 day juice cleanse reduced symptoms of an attack just as quickly as corticosteroids or other pain medication. We also offer other detoxification kits by Metagenics, Renew Life and even some homeopathic options. Talk to our staff about what is best for you.

Cold water fish and flax seeds provide healthy oils that are useful in reducing inflammation.  Water is also very important in flushing toxins and pain can be related to dehydration.  Keep well hydrated at all times. I love coconut water for hydration as it is high in potassium and other electrolyte minerals and is also very refreshing!

And finally, as always, move!!   You have heard about the benefits enough that I don’t need to repeat them here.  They are in every health article known to man.   Exercising in water is helpful if your joints are extremely painful. The key for me is in variety.  Find a number of activities that you enjoy doing and rotate them so you don’t get bored.  Make sure you pick at least one that is convenient enough to do just about anywhere. Don’t think too hard about it, just do it!

“Find a place inside where there is joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”~Joseph Campbell