Poor diet and lifestyle can contribute to any type of joint or muscular problem, as can stress, immune dysfunction and obesity. Some nutrients improve joint health, whilst other foods, have been found to encourage joint inflammation and pain.
Allergies or intolerances to certain foods can sometimes exacerbate or even cause joint inflammation and should be identified with the help of a nutritionist or herbalist.
One well-known aggravating vegetable family is the Solanaceae group which contains tomatoes, sweet peppers, Chilli peppers, egg plant (aubergine), potatoes and tobacco.
The Solanacaeae family is the Nightshade family and also includes datura, belladonna, mandrake and henbane which have sedative, anesthetic or poisonous properties. With the exception of aubergine, none of this family of plants was eaten before the mid 1600's and they were initially viewed with great suspicion. There are groups of people who cannot tolerate foods from the nightshade family and find that cutting them out of their diet completely alleviates a range of physical, emotional or mental problems (Childers & Margoles, 1993).
Around one in three arthritis sufferers find that eating these foods triggers flare-ups and so use substitues. It is interesting to note that potato leaves and tomato leaves contain extremely high levels of nicotine, like tobacco, which is now well known as an addictive and poisonous substance.
Applying capsicum topically to the skin does not seem to have the same negative effect. Capsaicin is a compound that can be extracted from cayenne peppers and is used as a concentrated pharmaceutical ingredient to relieve pain. The whole fruit extract is often used in herbal warming creams and massage oils that ease the joints and muscles.
Courgettes, squash and zucchini are good substitutes for aubergine and being members of the Curcubitaceae family (like cucumbers) do not aggravate joints like the Solanaceae family. Carrot is often used in 'nomato' sauces too.
Antioxidants help to protect against osteoarthritis - notably vitamin C, E and the beta-carotenes. The most potent antioxidants are berries so try and start each day with a bowlful of blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, cherries or raspberries or have them for dessert. Juices and smoothies with these or wild berries, such as elderberries or bilberries, are also a great way to include antioxidants.
Take smoothies with a few sticks of celery. Celery is a very underrated food. It contains polyacetylene which helps reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout and luteolin which prevents inflammation from 'switching on' in the first place. Added to that, it is a great source of dietary fibre, the juice helps to lower blood pressure, and according to the University of Chicago, as little as 2 stalks a day can significant reduce LDL cholesterol. It can be added to soups and stews or eaten fresh in salads. Many traditional herb medicine tablets for arthritis contained celery seed.
Turmeric and ginger are fantastic for joints and a teaspoon of each can be added to your berry smoothies as well as your cooking. Turmeric and ginger are natural COX-2 inhibitors that help to relieve pain. Although you would not want to take COX-2 inhibitor drugs like Celebrex or Vioxx as a preventative, increasing the amount of turmeric and ginger you consume will increase your level of protection. Ginger tea is also an excellent way of consuming ginger and is also a wonderful plant for settling the stomach too. Just slice ginger and boil it for 5 minutes and add a little honey or lemon to vary the taste.
Low levels of vitamin C are related to cartilage loss in joints. So eat plenty of brassicas such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower as well as citrus fruits.
Pineapple contains bromelain and papaya (pawpaw) contains enzymes with a similar function called papain and chymopapain. These enzymes also help to prevent and reduce inflammation. You can get bromelain in capsules but pineapples are much tastier and pineapple juice is available in most supermarkets.
It has been found that people who eat a lot of fish, especially cold water fish like salmon and oily fish, tend to be less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. This is because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the Arthritis Research Council (2009) found, in a survey of people using complementary remedies, that fish oil capsules were the most effective for reducing pain and inflammation.
If you don't like fish or are a vegetarian, you can use vegetable oils instead, both for cooking or for use as a salad dressing. Hemp seed oil, flax oil, rapeseed oil and evening primrose oil are all good sources of omega essential fatty acids.
Some people, especially gout sufferers, also find that cutting down on meat and dairy products is beneficial as these contain purines which raise uric acid levels. Alcohol also raises uric acid levels and some people cure themselves of gout by eliminating alcohol.
Carrying excess weight also puts a lot of strain on your joints. It also makes it much harder to exercise which plays a vital role in mobility. A group of elderly people tracked over a decade by the Boston University School of medicine found that for every 10 pounds someone gained, their risk of osteoarthritis increased by 40%! So it's really worth trying hard to lose the extra pounds. Often just a few changes in what you eat, rather than fasting, is the key.
Arthritis Research Council (2009) Complementary and alternative medicines for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. www.arthritisresearchuk.org
Childers, N.F. and M.S. Margoles, M.S. (1993) An Apparent Relation of Nightshades (Solanaceae) to Arthritis. Journal of Neurological and Orthopedic Medical Surgery (1993) 12:227-231
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Napiers Joint Ability Herbal RemedyFor the relief of backache, rheumatic or muscular pain, and general aches and pains in the muscles and joints.
Willow bark (Salix alba) contains natural salicylates from which aspirin is derived. It has both pain killing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Arnica (A. montana) is often used by athletes to reduce skin discolouration, swelling and pain after injuries.
Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is renowned for its anti-inflammatory action.
Burdock root (Arctium lappa) is the included in many internal treatments for joint main, as it has a detoxifying and mildly laxative effect on the body.