Healing Joint Pain Naturally: Safe and Effective Ways to Treat Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and Other Joint Diseases
By Ellen Hodgson Brown
One reason arthritic damage has been considered inevitable and irreversible may be that most people with arthritis now take NSAIDs and other analgesic drugs for it, and these drugs have been shown to actually impede the body's ability to repair itself. Few studies have looked at the natural course of the disease without the use of analgesics and other drags-few, but there are some. In one study, the researchers followed patients with advanced osteoarthritis who were given no drugs for a full ten years Surprisingly, fourteen of thirty-one hips studied-or nearly half-showed remarkable clinical improvement and recovery of joint space as confirmed by X ray. The difference between patients who recovered and those who did not involved something else besides drags. Evidently, some lifestyle change was involved.
In the 1960s, Dr. Paavo Airola wrote in There Is a Cure for Arthritis that conventional medicine has failed to cure arthritis only because it hasn't yet recognized the disease's cause. Dr. Airola was a leading proponent of the naturopathic approach to healing. Naturopathic medicine is an alternative system involving a number of different modalities, including clinical nutrition, acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and manual manipulation. What they have in common is that rather than suppress natural functions, they work to support the body's own efforts at cure. The first step in this endeavor is to understand what the body is trying to do.
Tracking the Cause of Osteoarthritis OA
Osteoarthritis (OA) is conventionally attributed to the inevitable wear and tear that comes with age. When the cartilage cushion that keeps the ends of the bones from rubbing together deteriorates to the point where the bones grate against each other, inflammation of the joint occurs. Formation of the bony roughness known as osteoarthritis follows.
In "secondary" osteoarthritis, damage can be traced to an old injury, old fracture, tissue damage from disease, overuse of drugs injected into the joint, or occupational overuse. In overweight people, arthritis in the knees is traced to the extra burden their weight puts on those joints. Secondary arthritis can develop from a single traumatic injury experienced in youth, or from a less traumatic but sustained stress on a joint continued over a long period of time.
Far more common, however, is "primary" osteoarthritis, which just happens. You wake up one morning with it, with no identifiable precipitating cause. It usually hits suddenly, typically around age fifty; but X rays reveal that degeneration starts as early as age twenty.
Under the wear-and-tear theory, the joints have just broken down over time. But this theory fails to explain those native groups following traditional lifestyles and diets among whom the disease is rare. Africans in the bush stress their joints daily, yet they generally manage to escape this "inevitable" wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis is also rare among these native populations. Heredity doesn't explain the discrepancies, since when these same Africans move from their villages to the cities, they are subject to arthritic disease like everybody else.
Some scientists have blamed arthritis itself on heredity. They assert that about 6 million people with OA have a defective gene giving them a genetic predisposition to develop the disease. But surveys have indicated that over 40 million Americans have arthritis, including 80 percent of people over fifty years of age. If 80 percent of a population has a condition, it can hardly be due to an abnormal gene. The condition is normal. Looking for a responsible gene, like looking for a responsible germ, takes responsibility and control away from the patient and makes us victims dependent on doctors and drugs.
Inevitable Wear and Tear or Reversible Toxicity?
It used to be thought that cartilage could not repair itself sufficiently to reverse damage to the joints. Skin would regrow and bone would knit together again, but damaged cartilage just seemed inexorably to get worse. Clinical evidence that degenerative changes in the joints are not inevitable and irreversible came with the invention of the artificial hip Research by Leon Sokoloff, M.D., involving hip joints replaced with metal implants showed that new cartilage could grow on the bone protected by the metal Dr. Sokoloff concluded that the real problem is that stress on the joint keeps intervening and preventing this process. Cartilage can repair itself if given a chance.
Evidence that OA is not the inevitable result of normal wear and tear on the joints was reported by a team led by Dr. Derek A. Willoughby in England, who traced the damage not to raw joints rubbing together but to calcium deposits within the joints rubbing on and irritating them. An accumulation of unwanted calcium deposits is potentially reversible. When Dr. Willoughby's team examined the synovial fluid of 100 patients with osteoarthritis under an electron microscope, three-fourths of these patients were found to have tiny crystals in their fluid that turned out to be hydroxyapatite, the same mineral that makes bones and teeth. The effect was like throwing sand into the joint. The crystals irritated the rubbing bones, causing inflammation, tenderness, and swelling.
To make sure these crystals were in fact what was responsible for joint damage, the intrepid researchers proceeded to inject the crystals into themselves. Sure enough, the injected joints became sore and inflamed just as if the researchers had osteoarthritis; and inflammation increased with the amount and size of the crystals. The researchers concluded that the crystals, not the raw bones themselves, were what roughened the smooth cartilage, reduced its ability to cushion stress, and caused swelling.
They hypothesized that these crystals were the result of an inherited disorder that impaired calcium balance in the blood. But again, the magnitude of the problem of joint dysfunction, which now strikes 80 percent of the American population over 50, hardly makes it sound like a genetic aberration.
An Alternative Theory of Osteoarthritis
Dr. Airola thought that OA is not a localized disease of particular joints but is a systemic condition that affects the whole body. Particular joints develop symptoms first only because they are the most susceptible to damage due to prior injuries or stresses. OA is caused not by normal wear and tear on the joints but by prolonged abuses involving faulty nutrition, overeating, a sedentary lifestyle, and emotional and physical stresses. The result is diminished vitality and resistance to disease, intestinal sluggishness, and an impaired ability to eliminate toxic buildup in the joints and soft tissues.
Dr. Max Heindel, an early twentieth-century German writer, reduced aging to its most basic terms. He observed that the stages from youth to old age involve a gradual "ossification"-a hardening or calcification-of soft body tissues. This process results from the deposit of "ash"-earthy matter consisting mainly of phosphate of lime (bone matter), carbonate of lime (common chalk), and sulphate of lime (plaster of paris). The fact that arterial (incoming) blood contains more of this ash than venous (outgoing) blood indicates that ash is progressively deposited in the tissues, bones, and joints with the nutrients the blood carries. The source of this ash, said Dr. Heindel, can only be our food and drink. The result is a progressive increase in the degree of hardness and solidity in the bones, organs, and joints, which destroys the flexibility of the joints, muscles, and other moving parts; thickens the blood; and chokes up the tiny capillaries so that the circulation of fluids and the action of the system progressively diminish until death ensues.
Later research confirms that extraskeletal calcification-the deposit of bits of calcium in normally soft tissues-characterizes most chronic disease In coronary heart disease, bonelike matter is deposited in the vital arteries feeding the heart. In hypertension, calcium deposits clog the tiny capillaries in the extremities, preventing the free flow of blood In the kidneys, they occur as kidney stones; and when the kidneys begin failing, they can appear throughout the arteries and internal organs. Atherosclerosis is the deposit of fat hardened with calcium in the arteries. In cancer, mineral deposits tend to be localized in the region of the tumor. In tuberculosis, calcium is deposited in the lungs. In the eyes, they produce cataracts. In bursitis, they occur in the bursae (sacs of fluid cushioning the joints). In scleroderma, calcified patches appear on the skin. And in arthritis, they occur in the joints.
Research also confirms that the accumulation of extraskeletal calcium in soft tissues is related to lifestyle rather than heredity. In one study, researchers determined the degree of calcification in the aortas of seventy South African Bantus and fifty-eight Johannesburg whites who had died and had been autopsied. Calcium in the aortas of the Bantus had barely doubled between the ages of fifty and eighty, while in the whites it had increased sixfold-a difference of 300 percent. Whites over sixty-five years of age had three times as much calcium in their aortas as Bantus of equal age. Reflecting these differences in extraskeletal calcification, none of the Bantus had severe atherosclerosis, while ten of the whites did. Again, these differences aren't genetic, since prosperous Africans frequently fall victim to coronary heart disease when they adopt American or European dietary habits and sedentary ways of life.
Where does the calcium come from that settles in the joints and soft tissues? Evidently from the bones Atherosclerotic calcium phosphate deposits have been found to have the same composition as bone. Their X ray diffraction patterns are indistinguishable from apatite, one of the two mineral constitutents of bones and teeth. John McDougall, M D , a professor at the University of Hawaii and the author of a number of popular books on nutrition, blames protein in the Western diet for weakening the bones by causing calcium loss. Protein is highly acidic, requiring calcium to buffer it To do this buffering, calcium is pulled from the bones, not only weakening them but causing their joint surfaces to be more easily injured. The calcium pulled from the bones to neutralize the highly acidic Western diet may also settle in the joints as extraskeletal calcium deposits, grating on the joint ends like sandpaper and roughening and damaging their surfaces.
On that theory, osteoporosis (age-related bone loss) is the flip side of the pathological buildup of calcium that clogs and hardens the joints and soft tissues in old age. Both result from our protein-laden diet, which leaches calcium from the bones. Americans have one of the highest calcium intakes in the world; yet our incidence of osteoporosis also remains among the world's highest, and so does the incidence of degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis and arthritis involving the pathological buildup of calcium deposits. The good news is that this process seems to be reversible. The idea that degenerative disease is not inevitable and can be reversed reflects an exciting new paradigm in medicine, discussed next.