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Sore joints? Learn how to treat arthritis naturally and gently


Treating arthritis naturally, the risk factors of arthritis and more

Credit: Tamara Bellis

Arthritis is the term given to more than a hundred different medical conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, specifically the joints.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, which is considered a “wear and tear” degenerative disease. Osteoarthritis occurs when there is continual stress being put on particular joints, which wears down the cartilage between the bones and joint. Cartilage is a type of smooth connective tissue that covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints. It allows bones to glide easily over each other, along with providing cushioning and absorbing shock, and protecting the joints from injury. When cartilage wears down over time the bones start rubbing together, which results in pain and swelling, and eventually loss of mobility.

Other types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), gout, juvenile arthritis, fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, Ross River fever and scleroderma.

RA is the most common autoimmune disease in Australia. In RA the body’s immune system starts mistakenly attacking the joints. This causes inflammation, pain and swelling, and a thickening of the synovium with a reduction of synovial fluid, decreasing joint mobility. The synovium is the tissue that lines the joints and produces a lubricating fluid that allows the joints to move freely. If inflammation is left unchecked, however, bone and cartilage destruction can occur.

Researchers from Chicago’s Rush University found that wearing thongs as well as going barefoot is actually beneficial for people with knee OA as they don’t create stress on the knees.

The most characteristic symptoms of arthritis include pain, swollen and inflamed joints, stiffness and loss of mobility. Arthritis can hinder a person’s day-to-day life, making it difficult for them to do even the most basic tasks like cooking, opening a jar, driving or walking. Chronic inflammation causes damage to the cartilage and the surrounding tissues which can result in weakness, instability and deformity of the joints. Bone erosion can also be seen in severe RA and in erosive OA, which most often involves the hands of postmenopausal women.

Risk factors

Age is a strong risk factor for OA, with the prevalence of this type of arthritis increasing with age for both women and men. Women, however, have a higher risk of developing OA, especially after menopause. A deficiency in oestrogen has been said to be associated with osteoarthritic changes such as increased cartilage breakdown and joint laxity in the joints in postmenopausal women. RA also occurs more often in women than men, and hormone and genetic factors have been suggested to play a role in this. Obesity is also a major risk factor for the development of arthritis, particularly OA of the knees. Mechanical stress like heavy lifting or kneeling, along with joint injury, can also increase the risk of developing OA. Moreover, nutritional deficiencies are a contributing factor in the development of OA.

Many people believe that developing arthritis is just a part of getting older, but it is actually not a natural part of ageing. Early natural intervention with the right herbs, nutritional supplementation and diet can do a lot to prevent the onset or reduce the severity of arthritic symptoms.

Dietary advice for arthritis

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are an essential part of anyone’s diet, and even more important for people with arthritis. Antioxidants help to mop up free radicals that cause damage to cartilage and joints. Eating a diet rich in a variety of brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables that are abundant in antioxidants will lessen inflammation and help protect joints, bones and surrounding tissues from further damage.

Studies have found that the antioxidant status in people with RA and OA is lower than in people without arthritis.

Some of the best fruits and vegetables that will give your diet a super antioxidant boost are berries, dark green leafy vegetables, beetroot, tomatoes, pomegranates, citrus fruits, kiwifruit, papaya, mangoes, avocado and carrots.

Diets that contain optimal amounts of fresh fruits rich in vitamin C have been found to have a protective effect against OA, helping to reduce the risk and progression of the disease. Vitamin C plays an essential role in the production of collagen, which is an important protein that makes up cartilage. Vitamin C also has impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwifruit, pineapple, guava, mangoes, blackcurrants, rose hips and berries. Papaya is rich in vitamin C and proteolytic enzymes; both have been shown to be effective in relieving OA symptoms. Pineapple is another great source of vitamin C that also contains bromelain, an enzyme that has been shown to help reduce joint inflammation, pain and swelling.

Quercetin is a flavonoid known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, making it useful for the treatment of OA and RA. Excellent sources of quercetin include black grapes, raspberries, broccoli, kale, onions and apples.

Antioxidant vitamins E and beta-carotene can also be beneficial for reducing the risk of OA. You will find vitamin E in wholesome foods like avocado, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, and Atlantic salmon, trout, and cod. Good sources of beta-carotene (provitamin A) are orange fruits and vegetables, green leafy vegies and cod liver oil.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Since arthritis is an inflammatory condition, it makes sense to eat a wholesome diet that includes plenty of nutritious anti-inflammatory foods and herbs to counteract the effects of inflammation and protect the joints from further damage.

Omega-3 essential fatty acids have a potent anti-inflammatory action that reduces inflammation in the body and alleviates arthritic symptoms including pain and swelling. Omega-3 fats also have a lubricating effect on the joints. You can easily include these beneficial fats in your diet by eating oily wild fish, raw walnuts, linseeds and chia seeds. Alaskan wild salmon, trout, cod, mackerel and sardines are all good choices. You should aim to have around three serving of oily fish per week. Tuna, especially tinned “chunk” tuna made from larger tuna, are notoriously high in mercury, so this should be an occasional fish. If you do buy tinned tuna go for skipjack “light” tuna that is made from smaller fish.

A great way to give your snacks, smoothies, salads and breakfast cereals an anti-inflammatory boost is by adding a handful of raw nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, chia, hemp, linseeds, sunflower seeds or pepitas. Nuts and seeds provide beneficial unsaturated fats, vitamin E and zinc, which all have anti-inflammatory properties. Nut butters and tahini (made from sesame seeds) are also delicious ways to enjoy these valuable anti-inflammatory foods used to make protein balls, smoothies and raw treats and as a toast topping.

Spice up your meals with ginger, turmeric, garlic, curry powder, cinnamon and chilli. These effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich herbs will not only add plenty of flavour to meals, but they will also help fight inflammation and cartilage damage associated with arthritis.

If you find it difficult to get your daily dose of vegetables, try having a vegie juice or green smoothie to increase your daily intake of nutritious green leaves. Some excellent inflammation-busting vegie juice combinations are carrot, celery, beetroot, orange and ginger; or kale, spinach, celery, cucumber and lemon.

Studies have shown that people with arthritis can greatly benefit from eating a Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet’s health benefits are said to be due to its combination of mainly plant-based antioxidant and anti-inflammatory rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, olive oil, unprocessed grains and oily fish, together with a low consumption of meats.

Herbal teas

Swap your morning coffee for a delicious cup of liquorice, ginger or camomile tea. These fabulous herbs have been used by herbalists for centuries for their anti-inflammatory properties. Make sure to cover the teapot or cup while you’re brewing so the active volatile oils don’t escape.

Cinnamon and turmeric are also excellent anti-inflammatory botanicals that can be enjoyed in chai, or added to hot almond or coconut milk for a delicious anti-inflammatory latte.

Studies have found that green and rosehip teas are also great choices as they help dampen inflammation throughout the body.

Green tea’s anti-inflammatory action is due to its high levels of polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This polyphenol may also inhibit the degradation of cartilage.

Probiotic foods

It has been observed that inflammation of the gut is often associated with inflammation of the joints. RA has been linked to changes in gut microflora and an abnormally permeable intestinal lining (leaky gut).

Leaky gut is believed to be one of the contributing factors associated with the development of autoimmune diseases like RA. Leaky gut or gut permeability occurs when the intestinal lining becomes inflamed and small gaps appear which allow larger protein molecules to enter the body. The immune system is then triggered, thinking it’s an invader, and an immune response is activated. Long-term antibiotic and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use are common causes of leaky gut due to their damaging effect to the gut mucosa and diversity of the gut microbiome.

To maintain a healthy gut mucosa and to protect against gut damage caused from NSAIDs it is important to include probiotics and prebiotics in your diet regularly.

Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria that help boost our good gut microbiota. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, kvass, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and other fermented vegies. Fermentation also increases the bioavailability and digestibility of nutrients in foods. Taking a good-quality multi-strain probiotic supplement daily is also recommended to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome balance.

Herbs such as mustard seeds (Brassica alba/nigra), chilli (Capsicum spp.), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and peppermint (Mentha x. piperita) have been used topically for centuries for the management of aches and pains associated with musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis.

Our beneficial gut microbiota also need certain foods to ensure they survive and thrive in the digestive tract. Prebiotics are foods that feed our beneficial gut bacteria to help them to grow and flourish. Prebiotics are found in fibre-rich foods such as green bananas, onions, garlic, soybeans, Jerusalem artichokes, ground linseeds and whole grains like whole oats and barley.

Anti-inflammatory foods and herbs such as turmeric, ginger, oily fish, olive oil, avocado, slippery elm, camomile, aloe vera and marshmallow are all very soothing and healing for the gut. The amino acid glutamine is also commonly prescribed by naturopaths to treat leaky gut. It’s the primary fuel source for the cells that line the gut, and helps reduce inflammation and repairs and strengthens the gut mucosa.

Bone broths

Bone broths made from chicken, beef, lamb or fish bones contain collagen, which helps soothe, nourish and repair the gut lining. Consuming bone broth regularly can also help support cartilage health as collagen is a component of cartilage. Bone broths are easy to digest and are a popular healing food for anyone with a leaky gut. Bone broth also contains chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine which help reduce inflammation and joint pain. You can easily make bone broths at home and use them as a nourishing base for soups or stews, or as a healing warm drink.

Bone health

Over time chronic inflammation around the joints causes the bones to start breaking down. The body’s ability to build new bone will also start to slow down, which will result in weak, porous bones that can break easily. RA increases your risk of osteoporosis. Chronic inflammation also makes it harder for the body to absorb vital bone-building nutrients from foods.

The health of your bones and cartilage relies on a constant supply of specific nutrients from a wholesome diet including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins D and K. If your diet is lacking in any of these vitamins and minerals bone erosion can occur. Soft bones of tinned salmon, organic tofu, tahini, almond butter, organic eggs, dairy products, cod liver oil, and green leafy vegetables (such as kale, collard greens, turnip greens or buk choy) are all excellent sources of bone-building nutrients.

Foods to reduce or avoid

Lectins

Lectins are a type of protein found in plants and animal foods that bind to carbohydrates and stick to cells that line the digestive tract. Lectins are considered an anti-nutrient as they can prevent the gut from absorbing certain nutrients. Humans are unable to digest lectins properly; however, lectins can still cross the gut wall and enter the bloodstream. Eating large amounts of lectins in the diet can cause damage to the gut wall and are linked to RA in people who carry a particular gene that puts them at risk of the disease. Reducing dietary lectins can help reduce arthritic symptoms in people with RA.

Foods that contain high levels of lectins include legumes (including peanuts), nuts, grains (eg wheat, barley, rye, rice), quinoa, and nightshade vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes.

Cooking, sprouting and fermenting foods rich in lectins can greatly reduce their lectin content; for example, cooked wholemeal pasta contains undetectable levels of lectins. Soaking and sprouting legumes, grains and quinoa before cooking them, and buying sprouted wholegrain breads, activated nuts and sprouted nut butters is an excellent way to lower your lectin intake.

Saturated and trans fats

While a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial for arthritis sufferers, a diet high in saturated and trans fats is likely to have the opposite effect. Saturated and particularly hydrogenated or trans fats should be kept to a minimum as they have a pro-inflammatory effect. These types of fats can worsen inflammation and exacerbate arthritis symptoms. A diet high in these unhealthy fats will also contribute to weight gain, which puts extra pressure on joints, particularly the knees.

Some saturated fats in the diet are beneficial for good health; however, eating too many can increase inflammation throughout the body. Foods that are high in saturated fats that should be reduced include fat from red meat and chicken skin, and full-fat dairy foods. Foods that contain high levels of trans or hydrogenated fats that should be avoided include foods cooked in vegetable oils like greasy takeaway foods, processed and packaged foods, commercial baked goods and pastries, some crackers and margarines, microwave popcorn and refrigerated dough products.

Red meat

Red meat and processed deli meats are pro-inflammatory foods. Eating too much red meat can promote inflammation in the body and worsen arthritis symptoms. If you like eating red meat make sure that you buy organic and grass-fed, as commercially grown meats are commonly higher in inflammatory compounds. Marinate your meat in olive oil and garlic as this will form a protective coating on the meat that will help reduce the formation of inflammatory compounds when it’s cooked. Always cook your meat at a low to medium temperature and never burn it. Nitrates used to preserve meats found in deli meats may also increase inflammation, so choose nitrate-free alternatives.

Purines

People with gout should adhere to specific dietary restrictions that will reduce uric acid levels in their bodies. Gout is a form of arthritis that develops in some people with high uric acid levels. It causes crystals to form in the joints which cause pain and swelling, usually in the big toe. Uric acid is formed when the body breaks down purine, a chemical naturally found in the body and in certain foods. Reducing high-purine foods in the diet like red meat, organ meats, shellfish, asparagus and spinach is recommended for anyone with gout. Limiting alcohol and sugary foods and beverages is also recommended, as they can also increase uric acid levels.

Refined sugars

Eating too many refined sugary foods can worsen inflammatory conditions like arthritis. A diet high in refined sugars will elevate glucose and insulin levels and increases inflammation throughout the body. Try swapping sugary processed foods with wholesome alternatives — for example, swap sugary packaged breakfast cereals for whole oats or natural muesli. Instead of sugar-laden store-bought muesli bars and biscuits make your own healthy bars and cookies at home. Replace soft drink with natural mineral water, kombucha, sugar-free iced teas or vegie juices. Use fresh or dried fruits and stevia to sweeten desserts and baked goods. A tub of yoghurt can contain up to five teaspoons of sugar, so look for natural or Greek yoghurt and sweeten it naturally with fresh fruit, vanilla or cinnamon. Other foods that notoriously contain sugar are convenience snack foods, salad dressings, pasta sauces and fruit juices.

Moderate amounts of fructose from whole fruit is healthy; however, it’s when people consume large amounts of refined fructose (including high-fructose corn syrup) from processed foods that it can contribute to inflammation in the body.

Vegetable oils

Vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy and peanut oil oxidise quickly when they’re heated and form trans fats and aldehydes that are highly inflammatory. These oils are also high in omega-6 fats which are important in moderation but pro-inflammatory when eaten in excess. Make sure you store your oils properly in a cool, dark place. Olive oil is a great choice for baking and cooking at a moderate temperature. Avocado, flax, extra-virgin olive and macadamia oils are all excellent oils to drizzle over salads and vegies, and for dressings and dips.

Processed foods

One of the best ways to make the change to an anti-inflammatory diet is to stop eating processed foods and move towards a wholefood diet. Choosing to eat a diet rich in wholesome, natural, unprocessed foods that are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients will help to reduce inflammation and improve arthritis symptoms. Stock your kitchen with fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, avocados, raw nuts and seeds and nut butters, tahini, quinoa, oily wild fish and healthy oils like olive, avocado, linseed and macadamia.

Nutritional supplements for arthritis

While it’s always best to get your vitamins and minerals from a wholesome diet, nutritional supplementation is also recommended for people with arthritis. Supplementing a healthy diet with the right nutritional supplements can correct nutritional deficiencies, reduce inflammation, protect joints from free radical damage and help prevent bone loss.

Certain medications commonly taken long-term for arthritis can contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Methotrexate, for example, prescribed for RA and some other types of arthritis, can leave you deficient in folic acid, so supplementation with folic acid is important to prevent a deficiency.

Antioxidant nutrients

Studies have shown that individuals with OA produce more free radicals than healthy individuals. Free radicals have been identified in the synovial fluid of arthritis sufferers, where it contributes to joint damage. The antioxidant status of people with RA has been observed to be low, which further increases the risk of tissue damage and inflammation. This highlights the importance of supplementing a healthy diet with some key antioxidants nutrients such as vitamin A, C, E, quercetin, selenium and zinc.

Vitamin A is an immune enhancer and anti-inflammatory nutrient that’s found in high levels in cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is a good choice for arthritis sufferers as it also contains omega-3 fats and vitamin D, which are both beneficial for the prevention and management of arthritis. Vitamin A is also essential for maintaining and restoring the gut mucosa.

Vitamin E is another nutrient that has a potent anti-inflammatory effect. It also exerts an analgesic and antioxidant action. Vitamin E supplementation has been found to be just as effective as glucosamine in a study for reducing symptoms associated with osteoarthritis of the knee. Recommended dosage: 600mg/day.

Turmeric and ginger have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for the treatment of inflammatory disease like arthritis.

Selenium is an important trace mineral that offers antioxidant protection and is vital for a healthy functioning immune system and thyroid. Research has indicated that people with RA have lower selenium levels compared to healthy individuals. Studies have also shown that people with a deficiency in selenium have a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis. Adding a few Brazil nuts to your daily diet is a great way to increase your selenium levels.

Zinc functions as an antioxidant and is required for maintaining healthy cartilage. This vital mineral is also required for healthy immune function and has an anti-inflammatory action. Low zinc levels are commonly seen in patients with RA. Zinc is a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. A deficiency of this enzyme will leave your joints more susceptible to damage from oxidation. Zinc supplementation is also beneficial for improving gut permeability. Recommended dosage: 20–50mg/day. Some of the best sources of zinc include fish, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin C supplementation is useful for treating people with RA and OA due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and structural benefits. Vitamin C is needed to repair and regenerate joint cartilage and helps minimise inflammation and tissue damage as a result of a build-up of free radicals. Recommended dosage: 1–3g/day.

Quercetin is a flavonoid known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Black grapes, raspberries, broccoli, kale, onions and apples are particularly rich in quercetin. A recent study has shown that quercetin supplementation (500mg per day) can significantly improve clinical symptoms in women with RA, including decreased morning and after-activity pain and improved disease activity. Quercetin supplementation is recommended for people with leaky gut as it helps heal and restore the gut wall.

Glucosamine and chondroitin

Supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin has also been shown to be beneficial for OA sufferers. Glucosamine is found naturally in the body, in and around the cartilage. Supplementing with glucosamine can help stimulate the growth of cartilage and reduce pain associated with arthritis. Most glucosamine found in supplements is derived from marine exoskeletons (the chitin in crustacean shells). Recommended dosage: 1500mg/day

Chondroitin is also found naturally in the body within the cartilage. Chondroitin supplements can reduce inflammation and inhibit cartilage degradation. In supplement form it is derived from either bovine or shark sources. Recommended dosage: 800–1200mg/day

MSM

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a natural source of sulphur, which constitutes the building blocks for healthy bones and joints. MSM supplementation has been shown to be beneficial for people suffering from OA as it helps to ease inflammation and joint pain and offers antioxidant protection. It also helps maintain healthy connective tissue which lessens the risk of cartilage breakdown. Supplementing with MSM can also improve joint lubrication.

Omega-3 supplements

There is good evidence that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial for the management of OA and RA. Taking a good quality fish oil supplement is a great way to reduce inflammation and protect your joints from further damage. Specifically it is the omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish oil that have the beneficial effects. Recommended dosage: 0.8–2.7g/day DHA and 3–5g/day EPA.

Taking a krill oil supplement daily has been shown to significantly reduce pain, inflammation and stiffness associated with arthritis.

New Zealand green-lipped mussels are considered a superfood by many, and a highly effective natural treatment for joint pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Their beneficial effect is due to their high levels of omega-3 fats and a rare form of fatty acid called eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA), which has a potent anti-inflammatory action.

Bone-building nutrients

A calcium and vitamin D and K supplement is also a good idea for supporting optimal bone health, especially for anyone who has a diet lacking in these vital bone-building nutrients.

Adequate levels of vitamin D are crucial for cartilage and bone health. Vitamin D is involved in the normal turnover of cartilage and is important in the management and prevention of OA. Low vitamin D levels have been shown in many studies to increase a person’s susceptibility to OA in a number of sites in the body.

Vitamin D is also useful for in the treatment of RA as it can assist with regulating the immune system. Higher vitamin D intake is associated with a reduced risk of developing RA.

Vitamin D supplementation in those people with a deficiency is important for helping prevent or slow down cartilage loss, which will protect against the development or worsening of OA. Recommended dosage: 400-1600IU/day.

Calcium is important for maintaining strong healthy bones and cartilage. Look for a calcium supplement that also contains vitamin K. This vitamin builds and strengthen bones by making sure calcium goes to the bones and cartilage and does not clog up the arteries. You will find vitamin K in dark green leafy vegetables and fermented soy products like miso.

Medicinal herbs for arthritis

There is a variety of medicinal herbs with powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that make them ideal for alleviating pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. These herbs are commonly prescribed by herbalists and naturopaths to treat different types of inflammatory conditions including arthritis.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for the treatment of inflammatory diseases like arthritis. Turmeric also has a strong antioxidant action, offering the joints protection against damaging free radicals.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and corydalis (Corydalis ambigua) both have an analgesic and sedative action that can relieve arthritic pain and help promote a good night’s sleep.

Boswellia, also called frankincense, is the gum from the Boswellia serrata tree native to India. Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, this herb has shown efficacy in treating RA and OA of the knee.

Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is commonly used in herbal medicine as a treatment for RA and osteoarthritis. The Khoisan people of the Kalahari Desert have used this herb for centuries as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory.

Turmeric and ginger have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for the treatment of inflammatory disease like arthritis.

Chilli or cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) contains an active compound called capsaicin that has been found to be useful in the management of arthritis. Capsaicin acts as an anti-inflammatory and circulatory stimulant that aids the flow of nutrients to different areas of the body including the joints.

The herb white willow bark is the bark of the young willow tree (Salix alba). It contains an active compound called salicin which is responsible for its powerful pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Salicin was used back in the 1800s to develop aspirin.

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used in China to treat inflammatory conditions since ancient times. The bioactive compounds present in liquorice make this herb a valuable alternative to NSAIDs in the treatment of inflammatory diseases like arthritis, without the side effects. Liquorice also has an immune modulating and antioxidant action. Liquorice is also helpful for reducing the adverse effects of NSAIDs, as it can repair and restore an inflamed gut wall.

Herbal topical preparations

Rubefacient herbs such as mustard seeds (Brassica alba/nigra), chilli (Capsicum spp.), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and peppermint (Mentha x. piperita) have been used topically for centuries for the management of aches and pains associated with musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis. These oils are commonly found in natural pain-relieving rubs. When applied topically these herbs increase blood vessel dilation and cause a warming effect which improves blood flow to the area and relieves pain. This also improves the delivery of nutrients and antioxidants to the affected areas.

Lifestyle choices

Footwear

Appropriate footwear is important for reducing the risk of OA and for easing pain and swelling associated with arthritis. Wearing high heels regularly can contribute to foot pain and the wearing down of joints. It can also increase the risk of knee OA.

Sneakers are a good choice for people with arthritis, especially for people with foot issues like overpronation. Sneakers offer good cushioning and shock absorption. Good news for Aussies who love wearing thongs: researchers from Chicago’s Rush University found that wearing thongs as well as going barefoot is actually beneficial for people with knee OA as they don’t create stress on the knees. Thongs can be a good option for people with no issues with their feet. Flat flexible walking shoes with a cushioned insole are also recommended, and flat or low wedge boots with good arch support is a stabilising option for people with ankle OA.

Keep moving

For people with arthritis, daily exercise and stretching is one of the best things you can do for easing joint stiffness and pain. Gentle regular exercise and stretching will strengthen muscles to improve joint stability, and will improve joint function and mobility. Exercise also boosts mood, helps maintain a healthy weight, and will keep your bones strong. Being inactive also puts you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

It is important to choose low impact exercises that won’t put excess pressure on your joints. Walking, Pilates, yoga, tai chi, swimming, water aerobics and cycling are all great choices for people with arthritis.

Talk to an experienced certified fitness trainer or physical therapist before you start an exercise program. They will be able to give you advice on exercise modifications and can put together an exercise program to best suit you and your symptoms.

Maintaining a healthy weight

People who are overweight or obese are at greater risk of developing arthritis. If you are carrying too much weight it puts a lot of stress on your joints, particularly weight-bearing joints like knees and hips, which increases your risk of developing OA. It’s not just the extra weight on joints that causes issues — when you’re overweight you have higher levels of inflammation throughout your body. Fat cells produce chemicals called cytokines that are released into the body and promote inflammation, which worsens arthritis symptoms in people with RA and OA.

Being overweight is also not good for people with gout. Overweight individuals often have issues with clearing uric acid efficiently via the kidney due to higher insulin levels inhibiting uric acid excretion.

Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a well-balanced diet is important for reducing arthritis symptoms and lessening inflammation in the body.

Alternative therapies

There are a number of alternative therapies that can be beneficial for improving arthritis symptoms. Acupuncture, massage, osteopathy, yoga and tai chi can help reduce pain and swelling and improve joint mobility.

Get a proper diagnosis

If you’re having any continued pain or swelling in any of your joints, it is important that you go and see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. To achieve optimal results it’s best to work with your doctor or specialist together with a natural therapist (such as a herbalist, nutritionist or naturopath) to treat your arthritis holistically. Where pharmaceutical medications are required many natural medicines complement these treatments well and can help prevent any unwanted drug side effects.



 

Lisa Guy

Lisa Guy is a respected Sydney-based naturopath, author and passionate foodie with 16 years of clinical experience. She runs a naturopathic clinic in Rose Bay called Art of Healing and is the founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.

Lisa is a great believer that good wholesome food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and the foundation of good health. Lisa encourages her clients to get back to eating what nature intended: good, clean, wholesome food that’s nutrient-rich and free from high levels of sugars, harmful fats, artificial additives and pesticides. Her aim is to change the way people eat, cook and think about food.

Lisa is an avid health writer, being a regular contributor to The Sunday Telegraph's Body and Soul, and leading magazines including WellBeing. Lisa is an author of five books to date, including My Goodness: all you need to know about children’s health and nutrition , Pregnancy Essentials, Heal Yourself, Listen to your Body and Healthy Skin Diet .