We hear an awful lot about joint pain and chronic inflammation these days. It used to be only old people had sore joints. Now even young people are complaining. What’s going on?
Normally inflammation is the body’s defense system, but when it gets out of control, we have an overactive immune response and too much inflammation. Some of the results are allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, and asthma.
If chronic inflammation is left unchecked it can become a serious problem. What is not generally understood is that uncontrolled hidden inflammation the root cause of all chronic illness we experience.
Our joints are the structures that connect two or more bones in your body. Common joints are the hips, the knees, and the hands but there are many others as well. They are surrounded and cushioned by soft tissues. Joint swelling happens when fluid accumulates in these tissues. Pain, stiffness, or both may accompany the swelling as well. Often the joint will appear to be bigger than normal, or that its shape is somewhat irregular. Not all joint pain, however, is a symptom of a chronic condition, sometimes it can be a sign of an injury that requires medical attention.
One of the most frequent causes of joint swelling is arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common disorder of the joints, according to the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory form of arthritis and is also an autoimmune disease. While osteoarthritis occurs most often in older people, the onset of rheumatoid arthritis is usually between the ages of 25 and 50, but RA can appear at any age and can also be seen in children.
Conventional treatment for these conditions are anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or aspirin) and steroids such as prednisone. The problem is, while OK for treating acute problems, in chronic situations they tend to interfere with the body’s own immune response and can lead to serious and sometimes deadly side effects.
The $64,000 question is, is there a better way of addressing the problem of inflammation? The answer is, yes.
One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store. Did you know that your diet can affect inflammatory responses within the body? It is well-known that the average American diet includes too many foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids found in processed and fast foods, and too few rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in cold-water fish or supplements. Inflammation sets in when that balance is out of kilter.
Natural chemicals found in the plant foods-phytochemicals-are believed to help reduce inflammation. according to PMC, phytochemicals, which are natural compounds derived from fruits and vegetables, have shown anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
Foods that help fight inflammation:
- Animal-based omega-3 fat – wild-caught Alaskan salmon and fish or krill oil help fight inflammation throughout your body.
- Leafy greens – Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C. Opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw. Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet.
- Blueberries – Blueberries rate very high in antioxidant capacity compared to other fruits and vegetables. They are also lower in sugar than many other fruits.
- Tea – Tulsi aka Holy Basil is another tea loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other micronutrients that support immune function and heart health.
- Fermented vegetables and traditionally cultured foods – Optimizing your gut flora is important for a well-functioning immune system, and helps ward off chronic inflammation. In fact, the majority of inflammatory diseases start in your gut, as the result of an imbalanced microbiome. Fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, olives, and other fermented vegetables, will help ‘reseed’ your gut with beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods can also help your body rid itself of harmful toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides that promote inflammation.
- Ginger – Studies have linked the root to a drop in joint pain caused by the chronic inflammatory conditions osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Cherries – One fruit that stands out from the pack is the tart cherry. Like berries, the fleshy fruit abounds in anthocyanins (a type of phytonutrient), but it also delivers a uniquely powerful dose of anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Turmeric/Curcumin – Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant.
Foods to Avoid:
- Sugar – Foods high in sugar and saturated fat can spur inflammation. Learn all the different forms of sugar and read the labels!
- Dairy – Contrary to popular belief and advertisement, bone strength does not come from consuming milk and other dairy products but from plant foods. Dairy is a highly inflammatory food for most people. More processing (“skimming”) does not make it any healthier, only more inflammatory.
- Grain-Fed Meat – Grain-fed animals that are kept in concentrated animal-feeding operations(CAFOs) are sick and unhealthy because they are not doing what comes naturally to them: grazing and living outdoors. They are barely kept alive by antibiotics, hormones, and other drugs. When we eat their meat, we become sick, too. And on top of it, processed meats are laced with preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings. Eat grass-fed only.
- Bad Fats – Vegetable oils (like corn, soy, and canola), all hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) oils, and all oils that have been heated for frying or deep-frying should be avoided. Coconut oil is the best.
- Agave – Despite its (questionable) reputation as a worry-free sweetener, agave is still full of sugar with a fructose content of up to 90 percent.
- Refined Carbohydrates – White flour products (breads, rolls, crackers) white rice, white potatoes (instant mashed potatoes, or french fries) and many cereals are refined carbohydrates. These high-glycemic index foods fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products that stimulate inflammation.
- Gluten and Casein – Common allergens like gluten and casein (proteins found in dairy and wheat) may also promote inflammation. For individuals living with arthritis who also have celiac disease (gluten allergy) and dairy intolerance, the inflammatory effect can be even worse. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods made with these grains. Casein is found in whey protein products.
Neither of these lists are exhaustive by any means, but they give you a place to start. Nutrition is the key. A miraculous thing, the immune system. It will defend the body against infectious organisms and other invaders, if we just give it what it needs – healthy food.
*As much as possible, make sure you buy at least organic-preferably 100% certifiedarthritis