Arthritis is a term that refers to inflammation of the joints and encompasses more than 100 different medical conditions, most of which are characterised by pain, inflammation and stiffness. For some people, these symptoms and the associated joint damage can have a significant impact on their mobility and quality of life.
The most important forms of arthritis to be aware of are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Less common forms include ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, sometimes referred to as lupus) and scleroderma.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a condition in which the cartilage that lines the joints becomes damaged, causing pain, stiffness and inflammation. The symptoms may be worse in the morning or after resting. Osteoarthritis commonly affects the knees, hips and hands, but can also occur in other joints.
It is sometimes referred to as a ‘wear and tear’ disease, as it may occur in joints that have been subjected to previous injuries, carried heavy loads (e.g. through being overweight or repeatedly carrying heavy items), or been over-used (e.g. due to occupations that involve kneeling or squatting). Among others, some nutritional medicines for osteoarthritis are glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. Pain-relieving herbal medicines such as rosehips, devil’s claw, boswellia and topical applications of capsicum may also be beneficial.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that it’s triggered by a dysfunction of the immune system in which the body attacks its own tissues – in this case the linings of the joints. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects multiple joints at the same time (especially small joints like those of the hands and feet, often affecting the same joints on opposite sides of the body). The joints may be tender, swollen and painful, and sometimes become misshapen.
Clinical studies suggest that fish oil aids the management of rheumatoid arthritis. As an adjunct to medical treatment, it may help by lowering the intensity of pain, reducing the number of tender joints and decreasing the amount of time it takes for stiff joints to get going in the morning. Fish oil may also help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to cope better with some of the activities of daily life, such as turning taps on and off, bending over to pick things up, and getting in and out of cars. However, the research suggests that to achieve these results, fish oil needs to be taken in high doses over at least 3-6 months.
In order to minimise the number of capsules you take daily, we recommend choosing a concentrated fish oil product and taking it in doses of 5000-6000 mg per day or alternatively taking a Krill Oil. Some evidence suggests that fish oil may be of most benefit in rheumatoid arthritis when taken in conjunction with an anti-inflammatory diet.
Gout is an extremely painful form of arthritis that tends to develop suddenly often affecting the big toe, ankle, knee or feet. It is caused by high blood levels of uric acid, (a by-product created during the body’s metabolism of foods containing compounds called purines), which may cause crystals to be deposited in the joints and some other tissues where they cause severe pain, swelling and inflammation.
As well as taking appropriate dietary steps to prevent gout, you might like to try taking celery seeds, which have traditionally been used to relieve the symptoms of gout in Western herbal medicine and eating cherries or drinking their juice, as cherries have been shown to lower uric acid levels.