Tomorrow we celebrate World Autoimmune and Auto-inflammatory Arthritis Day. This day raises awareness for the many diseases that affect our precious joints. While there have been incredible advances in medications to stop joint damage in its tracks, it’s important to discuss the alternative treatments that are available to reduce joint pain and inflammation. There are four main areas to consider when seeking help for those painful joints: food, supplements, sleep and stress. Read on to learn more about each of these areas can improve your quality of life.
I’m a dietitian so I’m kicking off this conversation with diet (of course). It is shocking to most people the role that diet plays in either instigating or minimizing inflammation. The food you put in your body can either wreak havoc on your joints or protect them. I have written and talked extensively about anti-inflammatory diets here and here and here.
When dealing with inflammation, it is important to start with a clean diet. I also encourage people to get comfortable spending a little more on their groceries than what they are used to spending. This is because high quality food typically costs more. However, the investment you are making in your health by the food you eat will translate into less doctor visits and (hopefully) less out of pocket medication expenses.
Here are my top tips for cleaning up your diet to protect your joints:
Remove all processed foods
This includes chips, processed meats, candy, crackers, cookies and sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages. The best way to do this is read the ingredient labels. If there are ingredients that you can’t pronounce, it does not belong in your body. Many of these chemicals and additives can relax those tight junctions in your intestinal tract, leading to a leaky gut and inflammation (1).
Be picky with your proteins
This is where most of your grocery budget will shift towards, but it is essential. Organically and pasture raised animals and their by-products have healthier nutritional profiles, they taste better and will reduce your exposure to antibiotics and added hormones (2,3,4,5). Here are some ways to start investing in higher quality proteins without breaking the bank:
- Buy local. Meat, seafood and poultry is typically less expensive at farmers markets. If there is not a farmers market near you, seek out farms in your area that raise organic and pasture raised animals. Buying directly from a farm will also cut costs.
- Consider offal. Organ meats are nutritional powerhouses that really give you quite a bang for your buck. Offal also tends to be cheaper than more popular cuts of meat. Farmers will also be more interested in selling this to you at a discount because the demand just isn’t there.
- Try canned fish and seafood. Fish can get very expensive and not so fresh if you don’t live near water. Canned salmon, sardines, oysters and tuna are all fantastic options to include seafood on a budget.
Additionally, shifting your eating pattern to include more vegetables and less animal products will reduce the strain on your weekly food allowance.
Buy organic (at least the dirty dozen)
Organic is pricey, but what you are getting in return is produce that is free of harmful chemicals. These are chemicals that can disrupt your endocrine system (think hormones), have been linked to cancer (hello glyphosate) and can affect fertility. If organic is a stretch for you, try to invest in the organic items listed on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list. Every year, the EWG publishes a list of the top twelve produce items that have the highest pesticide residue. At a minimum, buy organic for these 12 items.
Reduce added sugar
Sugar is a major inflammatory trigger and can definitely do a number on your joints. If you have already cut out processed foods, then you are well on your way to reducing your daily added sugar intake. However, sugar can sneak in everywhere, including “healthy” food items like yogurts, condiments, and even gluten-free foods. Be sure to check the ingredient label for sugar or one of its incognito names (brown rice syrup, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate….). Here is a short list of added sugar names. Again, if you don’t know what something is, google it. Check out this blog post where I take a deep dive into sugar and its inflammatory effects.
If food alone doesn’t do the trick, then it’s time to investigate supplements. I do recommend getting your micronutrient levels checked for an individualized therapeutic approach. However, the following options may help give your healing processes a kick start.
Curcumin has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It has been shown to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and it has been used to treat osteoarthritis, anxiety and metabolic syndrome (6). Research is not conclusive on its effectiveness on joint pain. However, it is worth trying to see if it helps.
Fish oil has been studied extensively for its anti-inflammatory benefits. It has also been shown to reduce joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis (7). If you choose to supplement, make sure you choose a supplement from a reputable source that tests for contaminants such as mercury, lead and other heavy metals commonly found in seafood.
Boswellia comes from a native Indian tree. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammation and pain. Boswellia has been used to reduce joint pain in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, although the study results have been small with mixed results.
One of the newer players on the market, CBD has the potential to reduce pain and can potentially block the degeneration of collagen in rheumatoid arthritis (8). I personally love the Green Compass products, and if you have specific questions about incorporating this into your daily routine, please contact me.
Getting those creaky joints under control is possible with a few tweaks and additions to your daily routine. Part two of this discussion will cover the lifestyle adjustments you can make to keep pushing yourself down that healing path. As always, if you have any questions or would like help making those dietary adjustments mentioned above, schedule a free discovery call with me to see how we can work together. Stay tuned for part two….