Natural Treatments for Arthritis
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
ARTHRITIS IS A CONDITION in which chronic swelling and inflammation damage joints. It is currently the leading cause of disability in people above the age of sixty-five.
Osteoarthritis: of the many forms of arthritic conditions (including rheumatoid, psoriatic, and gout-related arthritis) osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form, affecting at least 21 million Americans.
Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, in which there is an active inflammatory process occurring at the joints, OA is a degenerative disease in which the soft cartilage of the joints is slowly degraded. The causes of OA may involve aging, wear and tear, genetic predisposition, obesity, metabolic and hormonal disorders, repetitive-use injuries, and even gout. The onset of OA is gradual. Symptoms usually appear after the age of fifty. The most common symptoms include deep, aching joint pain (most often in the back, knees, hips, spine, and fingers) that gets worse with movement, stiffness upon waking and with inactivity, joint swelling and warmth, and inflexibility and a limited range of motion in the joints accompanied by crunching or crackling noises with movement. In severe cases abnormal bony growths, such as bumps on the outermost finger joints, may be present. One of the best preventive measures for OA is exercise and weight loss. Research has shown that with regular moderate exercise, pain and inflexibility can be reduced by at least 25 percent.
Rheumatoid arthritis: inflammation produced by a faulty immune system can lead to rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. The causes of the immune reaction are unknown. However, clinical observations suggest pathogens, environmental toxins, and emotional stress (when coupled with genetic predispositions) as the most likely triggers.
According to Chinese medicine theory there are several disease factors that can cause arthritis. These include cold invading the joints, pathogenic wind disturbing the joints, dampness congealing in the joints, and heat scorching the joints. Chinese medicine categorizes arthritic conditions into four types based on their symptom presentation: cold, wind, damp and heat.
- Cold arthritis symptoms include sharp, stabbing pain in fixed locations and coldness in the joints. The pain is relieved by heat. These individuals usually have a pale complexion.
- Wind arthritis manifests with pain that shifts locations, comes and goes suddenly, and sometimes causes dizziness behaving much like the wind.
- Damp arthritis symptoms include sluggishness, heavy sensations in the extremities, swelling, obesity, and dull, deep lingering pain.
- Heat arthritis is characterized by red, swollen, painful joints that are warm to the touch, and general disability. These symptoms often occur suddenly.
Sometimes these condition types can be seen together, as in the cases of dampness and heat or dampness and cold. I work with rheumatologists and orthopedists and have seen many patients with arthritis. My approach focuses on proper differentiation of the type of arthritis according to Chinese medicine and then modulating the immune system - by reducing excess or nourishing deficiency- to support healthy immune function. Acupuncture works well in managing pain and inflammation, while herbal and nutritional therapies nurture the healing process. Tai chi and qi gong exercises help strengthen the joints.
Related conditions: lower back pain, sciatica, insomnia, obesity
DIET FOR ARTHRITIS
Diet recommendations differ with each type of arthritis:
- Diet for cold arthritis should include heat-dispersing foods such as green onions, garlic, bell peppers, mustard greens, ginger, black beans, sesame seeds, grapes, grapevines, parsnips, spices such as turmeric, fennel, anise, and horseradish, and organic chicken and lamb. Rice wine can also be helpful, but avoid it if you have high blood pressure. Avoid cold foods, raw fruits and vegetables, and exposure to cold environments.
- Diet for wind arthritis should favor scallions, grapes, grapevines, mulberries, mulberry vine tea (garden cuttings), black beans, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. Nonpoisonous snake meat is a great food remedy for wind arthritis. Snake meat can be found in Asian markets and certain specialty restaurants. Avoid other meat, shellfish, sugars, alcohol, smoking, and other stimulants.
- Damp arthritis sufferers should consume more barley, mung beans, mustard greens, red adzuki beans, millet, brown and sweet rice, copisilk tea, and bland and diuretic foods. Avoid cold foods, raw fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and exposure to damp environments.
- Heat arthritis requires cooling and heat-reducing foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dandelion greens, cabbage, mung beans, winter melon, soybeans, and soybean sprouts. Avoid spicy foods, alcohol, smoking, stress, and warming foods such as green onions. Tomatoes and eggplants may exacerbate the inflammation and should be avoided as well.
HOME REMEDIES FOR ARTHRITIS
- For cold arthritis, make a tea by boiling 5 3-inch sticks of grapevines and 2 slices of ginger in 3 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes. Strain. Drink the tea 3 times a day for 2 to 4 weeks. Also try boiling 1/2 cup chopped parsnip, 3 grams cinnamon, 1 gram of black pepper, and 3 grams dried ginger in 2 cups of water. Strain. Drink twice a day for 1 month.
- For wind arthritis, boil 1/ 4 cup chopped scallions in 2 cups of water. Strain. Drink the tea 3 times daily for 1 to 2 weeks. Boil 1 bunch of Chinese parsley in 3 1/2 cups water for 20 minute. Strain.
- For damp arthritis, cook 1/3 cup each of soaked mung beans, pearl barley, and red adzuki beans for 1 hour in 4 cups of water and eat daily for 1 month. Cornsilk tea is also beneficial for damp arthritis. Boil 1 handful of cornsilk in 3 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes. Strain. Drink 3 cups a day.
- For heat arthritis, boil 1 cup each of dandelion greens and peppermint leaves in 3 1/2 cups water for 30 minutes. Strain. Drink 3 times a day. You may also apply a crushed whole dandelion poultice to the affected joints, changing every two hours. Make a poultice by macerating the leaves in a mortar with a pestle until mashed.
- I often recommend an innovative physical treatment involving far-infrared saunas. The far-infrared spectrum of light is often called the “golden light of life,” as it mimics the energy frequencies of healthy cells. When the infrared light penetrates deep into the body it stimulates the cells into dumping toxic waste products into the bloodstream, and they are eventually eliminated through sweat. The deep heating also stimulates the cells’ regenerative mechanisms and warms the tissues.
VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR ARTHRITIS
- Taking glucosamine sulfate (1000 milligrams) and chondroitin sulfate (400 milligrams) together has been shown in trials to reduce symptoms of OA, and to help regenerate the affected joints.
- Taking S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe; 1200 milligrams) is a better choice than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory and pain medications, as it has far fewer side effects.
- Supplementing with Vitamin D (400 IU) can prevent breakdown of cartilage, and Vitamins A (200 IU), E (800 IU), and C (1,000 milligrams) are good sources of antioxidants to prevent further damage to the joints.
- Taking niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3; 250 to 500 milligrams) can increase range of motion and reduce the need for pain medications.
- Omega-3 fatty acids (1,000 milligrams EPA; 800 milligrams DHA) can help with joint stiffness. Manganese (25 milligrams), bromelain (450 milligrams), and boron (3 milligrams) also provide some benefit.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR ARTHRITIS
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation.
- A traditional Chinese herbal formula to promote healthy function of joints and relieves painful symptoms of arthritis includes Loranthus Stems & Leaves, Notopterygium Rhizome & Root, Large-leaf Gentian Root, Siler Root, Astragalus Root, Peach Seed Kernel, Safflower Flower, Corydalis Yanhusuo Tuber, Myrrh, Eucommia Bark, Achyranthes Root, Cassia Bark, Dong Quai Root, Ligusticum Wallichii Rhizome, Rehmannia Root, Chinese Peony Root, Chinese Lovage Root & Rhizome, Poria Root, Licorice Root & Rhizome.
- White willow bark, black cohosh, sarsaparilla, guaiacum resin, aspen bark, boswellia, and turmeric are useful for arthritic pain management. Taking ginger twice a day can also help alleviate arthritic pain and inflammation.
- Capsaicin cream (derived from hot chiles) is a good topical for relieving the pain and discomfort of arthritis.
QI GONG FOR ARTHRITIS
As mentioned above, one of the best preventive measures for degenerative joint and bone disorders is exercise. Exercise can help strengthen the joints and bones and stimulate the body’s regeneration mechanisms. When it’s difficult to engage in strenuous exercise due to pain, soreness, and inflexibility, I recommend tai chi or qi gong.
In my clinic I teach a form known as the Eight Treasures Qi Gong, a 30- minute daily practice that has been clinically shown to strengthen bones and joints and prevent arthritis, and that has been passed down through my family. The entire form can be learned quickly and is far less stressful and strenuous than other types of physical exercises, with much greater benefits, as it emphasizes stretching and the strengthening of joints, tendons, and muscles. Most licensed practitioners of Chinese medicine are able to teach these exercises and can help you learn and practice qi gong or tai chi.
SELF ACUPRESSURE FOR ARTHRITIS
- Make a loose fist with your right hand and find the acupoint Back Stream (SI-3), on the outer side (pinkie side) of the right hand just behind and below the knuckle of the pinkie. Press with your left index finger until you feel soreness. Hold for 3 minutes. Repeat on the left hand.
- Find the acupoint Kunlun Mountains (UB-60), between the outer anklebone and the Achilles’ tendon on your right foot. Pinch it with your thumb and index finger for 3 minutes. Repeat on the left foot.
Activating both of these points is good for relaxing and strengthening the tendons, joints, and muscles.
ARTHRITIS: WHAT TO AVOID
- Avoid Smoking and consuming excess alcohol, as doing so can deplete the body of vital nutrients needed for joint health.
- Avoid Obesity and inactivity, as they are key risk factors in developing arthritic disorders. Studies show that shedding just 10 percent of total body weight can produce healthful effects.
- Avoid Stress, worry, and tension, as they irritate the immune system and can trigger autoimmune reactions that injure tissues.
©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Read Secrets of Self-Healing: Harness Nature's Power to Heal Common Ailments ... By Maoshing Ni