Arthritis – fighting inflammation naturally


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Arthritis – fighting inflammation naturally

By Dr Karin Elgar PHD, Nutritional Therapist

12th October marks World Arthritis Day.  Around 9 million people will see their GP every year for a musculoskeletal complaint, of these more than 2 million will have osteoarthritis, the “wear and tear” type of arthritis, and 350,000 will have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition affecting the whole body.  Both conditions are characterised by inflammation in the joints. 


Inflammation per se is actually not a bad thing.  It is our body’s response to an injury and promotes healing.  The swelling and redness are a sign of extra blood supply delivering nutrients and building materials to the site, and transporting away any debris from the injury.  And the pain tells us to rest that part of our body.  So short-term inflammation, as after an injury, has an important function and should not necessarily be suppressed.    


In a healthy balanced immune system, the inflammation lasts a few days and is then switched off again. When there are imbalances of certain nutrients, or when we suppress the inflammation and healing is therefore impaired, this switch may not work properly, and some low grade inflammation may persist.  Whilst this does not necessarily give us immediate problems or symptoms, long term, low grade inflammation is the cause of most, if not all, degenerative diseases.


Certain dietary factors can play and important role in balancing and modulating inflammation.  These include:


  • Vitamin D: Deficiencies of this vitamin is thought to affect at least 70% of the UK population and may play an important role in inflammation, as well as autoimmunity.  Our main source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight (this summer should have helped with that!).  The only way to know your vitamin D status is to do a blood test.  If found low, vitamin D can be taken in supplement form, in a regime dependent on the test results.
  • In some people food intolerances can contribute to inflammation.  Common food allergens include gluten and milk products.  It also appears that some people with arthritis are sensitive to vegetables of the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergines).
  • And last but not least, excess sugar/carbohydrates can promote inflammation by triggering excessive release of the hormone insulin, which is pro-inflammatory.
  • The balance of omega 3 and 6 fats in our diet.  The interplay of these poly-unsaturated fats is complex but on the whole their ratio in a typical Western diet is skewed too much towards an excess of omega 6 fats from vegetable oils such as sunflower and rapeseed oil.  On the other hand, our intake of omega 3 fats from oily fish (our main source of them) is generally too low.  So consider having oily fish two to four times per week and replacing refined vegetable oils with olive or coconut oil.

 Stretching for knee pain, stretching for back pain, stretching for neck pain, stretching for hamstring injury, stretching for sports injury, stretching for back injury, stretching for sports

So if you are affected by arthritis (or another inflammatory condition), looking at your diet may be an important step towards managing the condition.