Also see: Arthritis
A dentist writes, “In April of 1994 I met you briefly at the Michigan Dental Association Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids. During this seminar, I asked you about my 4-year-old son having juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Bryan was on 35 mg of prednisone (a powerful steroid) and 1200 mg of Advil daily. He was in so much pain he screamed and cried day and night. In one year he lost weight and did not grow one inch. His blood work reflected a sed rate of over 40 (This is a measurement of severity of inflammation and should be below 5). The suggestions you gave me that day lead me to remove all animal products from his diet, as well as refined carbohydrates.”
“Within six months, we had Bryan off all his medication. He was free of pain, gaining weight and growing again. His last blood work was superb with a sed rate of 1 – can you believe it!”
That’s how bad it can get. But for millions arthritis is much more subtle. Marvin Burk (Louise’s husband–Louise works in the McDougall Health Center office) couldn’t hardly get out of the chair. Then he would walk straddle-legged halfway across the room until he could loosen up enough to get his joints moving. His hands were so stiff he could not use his tools and he often dropped things. He figured a man of 65 shouldn’t be so crippled and decided he’d do whatever it takes to get well. He changed his diet 8 years ago with immediate and dramatic results. Now he pops out of the chair, walks without a bit of stiffness or pain and he handles his tools with no trouble. Many of us can relate to Marvin’s troubles.
People’s Most Common Affliction
Diseases of the muscles and bones are among the most common of all human afflictions, affecting all ages, but becoming more prevalent with years. Government surveys indicate in the United States approximately 33% of adults currently suffer from troublesome arthritis with symptoms of swelling, limitation of motion, or pain. Approximately half of all people over 65 years report having arthritis. The regions of the body most affected are the neck, lower back, hip and shoulder.
Arthritis means inflammation of a joint–no more, no less. The fact that a person has arthritis tells nothing about the cause or the cure. Joints can be inflamed as a result of an injury, such as from tripping and spraining an ankle. That’s called traumatic arthritis. Joints can be infected with bacteria resulting in suppurative arthritis. Uric acid crystals can accumulate in the joints causing gouty arthritis. The causes of all three of these forms of arthritis are known and once the causes are stopped the joints heal. Unfortunately, most forms of arthritis are said by doctors to have “no known cause.” And whether or not they will admit it, there is no cure to be found in modern drug therapy either.
Degenerative and Inflammatory
Arthritis of “no known cause” can be divided into two broad categories: degenerative arthritis and inflammatory arthritis. Degenerative arthritis most commonly represents a condition known as osteoarthritis. This is the most common arthritis found in people living in Western civilizations–seen in x-rays of the hands of over 70% of people 65 years and older. However, this same disease is comparatively rare in African and Asian countries, where people physically labor to survive (Br J Rheumatol 24:321, 1985). How can that be? Osteoarthritis is said to be due to wear and tear on the joints, so why is it less common among hard working people of underdeveloped countries? Nor does it explain why with light use, the hands of women often become twisted and deformed with age.
The inflammatory forms of arthritis include juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis. These aggressive diseases affect less than 5% of the people living in the United States today. Classifying these inflammatory diseases by different names, such as rheumatoid or lupus provides no further benefits to the patient, because it does not lead to better understanding of the cause of the inflammation, or to the successful treatment of the disease.
People diagnosed with degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) have inflammation in their joints in addition to the long-standing damage (degeneration). This inflammation can often be stopped with a change in diet and the swelling, pain, and stiffness relieved. What won’t change in either form of arthritis is the permanent destruction left by years of disease, leaving deformity, stiffness and pain. To understand how most people with arthritis can be helped by a healthy diet, I will focus on the more aggressive inflammatory forms of arthritis.
Hope for Arthritis Sufferers
Arthritis is not a genetic disease, nor is it an inevitable part of growing older–there are causes for these joint afflictions, and they lie in our environment–our closest contact with our environment is our food. Some researchers believe rheumatoid arthritis did not exist anywhere in the world before 1800 (Arthritis Rheum 34:248, 1991). It is well documented that these forms of arthritis were once rare to nonexistent in rural populations of Asia and Africa (Chung Hua Nei Ko Tsa Chih 34:79, 1995; Arthritis Rheum 34:248, 1991). As recently as 1957, no case of rheumatoid arthritis could be found in Africa. That was a time when people in Africa followed diets based on grains and vegetables.
These once unknown joint diseases are now becoming common as people migrate to wealthier nations or move to the big cities in their native countries. With these changes they abandoned their traditional diets of grains and vegetables for meat, dairy products, and highly processed foods (J Rheumatol 19:2, 1992; Ann Rheum Dis 49:400, 1991). For example, although unknown in Africa before 1960, African-Americans lead in the incidence of lupus in the US (J Am Med Women’s Assoc 1998;53(1):9-12). The mechanisms by which an unhealthy diet causes inflammatory arthritis are complex and poorly understood, but involve our intestine and immune system.