Last week, we learned about osteoarthritis in class. I know some of you have arthritis, and thought this information would be helpful. If you don’t have it, read anyway, because chances are you know someone who does: osteoarthritis is the most widespread form of arthritis and affects 16 million people in the US! Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis in that it is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system attacks its own cells and tissues.
Osteoarthritis results from progressive wear and tear of the joints. The cartilage that covers the ends of the bones at each joint starts to wear away and this causes the smooth, easy surfaces to become worn and rough. And when these rough surfaces rub as you move your joints, it’s very painful! This occurs most frequently at the hands, knees, hips and spine. One of the warning signs is stiffness in the joints after prolonged periods of sitting or sleeping. It scared me a little to learn this, because sometimes I get fairly stiff the day after I’ve done a long run, like when training for a race. I’ve always known that runners put too much pressure on their joints, but when I was younger I didn’t seem to care. Now, I do! I’ve decreased my running and increased things like swimming, yoga and pilates to help balance out the wear and tear (but, I still love running and will do it as long as I can, just in moderation!).
Things that may cause osteoarthritis can include any one or a combination of the following: getting older, being overweight, previous joint injuries, joints that never properly formed, and continuous stress on the joints from high activity levels in sports, on the job, or otherwise. For those who are overweight, losing weight can help relieve some osteoarthritis pain. For others, try things like yoga, pilates, tai chi, and other forms of strength training. I happen to be a huge believer in pilates, so this is what I would recommend to a client suffering from osteoarthritis pain. Lengthening and stretching your body through pilates movement helps to increase blood flow, and therefore increases delivery of nutrients to our tissues and tendons. This increased circulation also relieves soreness and stiffness, and corrects our posture, which can be very healing. The muscle strengthening component of pilates helps to increase lean muscle mass and support the body more completely. My one piece of advice with pilates: stick with it. It’s a completely new way of thinking about your body, and it takes time to learn the subtle movements and find those hidden muscle groups. But over time, I promise you will become addicted!
Now for the important stuff… Nutrition
What can you eat to help with osteoarthritis pain? A healthy diet helps a lot. Focus on antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E); bioflavonoids to help strengthen collagen for healthier joints (all fruits, veggies, spices and herbs); essential fatty acids (fish, nuts, seeds); and sulfur-rich foods, which reduce inflammation and help cartilage cells regenerate quickly. Foods rich in sulfur include garlic, onion, sprouts and cabbage.
Perhaps the biggest and most important change one can make nutritionally is to eliminate “nightshades” from their diet. Nightshades include potatoes (especially if they have green sprouts on them) tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, sweet peppers, hot peppers, regular peppers, pimentos, paprika, cayenne, and Tabasco sauce. Tobacco is also a nightshade, so smokers with osteoarthritis pain may feel symptoms subside when they quit smoking.
What do nightshades have in common? They all contain alkaloids. Alkaloids affect nerve-muscle function and our digestion, but they also can compromise joint function in certain people. Some people are particularly sensitive to the alkaloids in nightshades, and eliminating them from their diet relieves joint pain tremendously. When the alkaloids get into the joints, they can cause inflammation and altered mineral status. They also can contribute to calcium loss in the bones, and excessive deposits of calcium in soft tissues.
I would recommend eliminating nightshades from the diet completely for a client with either type of arthritis, as well as other joint problems like gout. Try eliminating them for 3 weeks and see if you notice a difference in the level of joint pain you are experiencing. I’ve spoken with many people who have tried this with a lot of success, and some of my teachers have first hand experience with their clients as well.