Arthritis – is it the inevitable result of using a body for a lifetime or a preventable degeneration we can counteract with suitable foods and building blocks?
Arthritic conditions are endemic in Western cultures: Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid, Gout, Raynaud’s, Sjogren’s, Lupus, Psoriatic… Most of them are related to auto-immune malfunction where groups of immune cells hyper-react and damage body tissue. I will concentrate on Osteoarthritis here and pick up the immune connection another time.
Whilst joint wear and tear is a fact of life as we age, many cultural lifestyles and diets have avoided the worst up until their introduction to ‘Western foods’. This is clear from looking at traditional Japanese or Polynesian health and cultural records, where many ‘diseases’ we commonly accept were unknown until the 20th century – arthritis, heart disease, menopause, obesity etc.
Opinions on the causes and cures for osteoarthritis are numerous. It does, however stand to reason that what we eat – which provides the basic matter from which we build ourselves – is a major factor in our body’s ability to repair and maintain itself over time. So what are we doing that these traditional cultures did not?
Perhaps the most important factor in joint degradation and inflammatory conditions is body acidity. There are only a few areas of body tissue which need to be acidic. Overall we need to be alkaline (see Dr William Hay Food Combining for more info on low acid and high alkaline balancing diet).
In areas that have become inappropriately acidic our body logically brings alkalinising agents into the area so the cellular tissue can resume function. Usually this means calcium, (phosphorus or magnesium), which is removed from storage in our bone matrix and delivered in the blood stream to the acidic area. When this is a joint it can lead to calcification, causing more inflammation, pain and loss of mobility. If this is a kidney flushing through acidic fluids then kidney stones may be more likely to form.
Foods high in acids, protein and calcium e.g. lots of cheese, tomatoes or pizza, can flood the body with excess and we might notice worsening of joint conditions. We may notice more pain over Christmas and New Year with an abundance of cheese and wine, sweet puds and cream, with the cold and damp weather further aggravating things.
Classic ‘westernised’ foods are highly acid biased. Protein, built of amino acids, is acid forming. Sugar is acid forming. The more refined or, shall I say ‘man-made’, foods are, the more acid they make us. Yikes!
So what should we eat?
In brief we should up our daily greens and most fruits, whole grains and beans, peas and lentils, (especially sprouted).
Barley grass powder is one of Mother Nature’s most alkalinising foods and can be mixed into smoothies, apple juice or water.
Starting the day with a cup of warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice or teaspoon of cider vinegar also provides our system with an alkalinising flush.
And what should we not eat?
Less meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, coffee, processed foods and refined flour products can help reduce over-acidity (just to emphasise – this is cellular or tissue acidity rather than stomach acidity).
Arthritic conditions are usually worsened by eating Nightshade family fruits- aubergines, sweet and chilli peppers, potatoes and the ubiquitous ‘wolfpeach’ (that’s a tomato to you and me). There are many differing opinions on the reasons the Nightshades, especially tomatoes, worsen arthritic pains but it is generally thought that naturally occurring acids create crystallisation and specifically irritate joint tissue.
Tomatoes were nicknamed ‘poison apples’ when they first arrived from the Americas because so many aristocrats got ill and died after eating them. The truth of the matter was that wealthy Europeans used pewter plates, which contained high levels of lead. Because tomatoes are so high in acidity, when placed on pewter, the fruit leached lead from the plate, resulting in lead poisoning. It shows how acidic this fruit is – especially under-ripe or raw.
Many people’s arthritis flares up in tomato season, July to November, and we often don’t notice that we are eating so many.
(That said the nutritional goodness in freshly picked, ripe or cooked tomatoes grown in hot sun is tremendous for those without joint problems. They are rich in soluble fibre, vitamins A and C, and potassium, as well as a great source of fundamental antioxidants, such as lycopene and carotenoids. The concentration of lycopene in tomatoes actually increases when sauces are cooked and the acidity drops.)
You can pick up a simple sheet from the advice desk in Wild Oats listing common alkalinising and acid-forming foods. Or look at any Food Combining or Hay Diet info for a more in-depth list.
You can also visit us at Wild Oats for more advice on herbs and supplements for joint maintenance.
And the importance of living life more lightly…
Did you know that stress creates body acidity and inflammatory chemicals? This is the old fight/flight vs rest/repair nervous system dance. This was not too much of a problem when humans had a clear divide between short-term stress (hunting or escaping a sabre-toothed tiger) and longer periods of rest (after the mammoth hunt round the fire in the cave) and the biochemistry was short-lived. However, we now often live with chronic stress and accept it as normal. When our nervous system can’t completely switch off the fight/flight response, everything is accentuated creating a vicious circle that’s hard to break.
So think on this: “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive!” (Elbert Hubbard)
By Wild Oats Advisor, Allie Burdet