(Feb 2013) Just because you have bad genes doesn’t mean you’ll become diseased. For example, many people who carry “obesity genes” do not become overweight. And when it comes to arthritis, only 12 percent of identical twins are concordant. Simply put, our genes are not our destiny. Actually it’s the “epigenetic” stuff that is more crucial to health, most of the time. These lifestyle and nutritional factors make all the difference.
Genetics is always involved to some degree, but we’re beginning to see that it’s not the primary reason for illness. People are more than 99% identical genetically. There are many more profound differences among people, like the variety of bacteria in their intestines, which can differ more than 90% from one person to the next. We also inherit these critters from our parents. Each of us has hundreds of trillions of microbes, each with their own set of genes. They outnumber our human cells 10 to one. And they change profoundly throughout life, from dietary changes, drugs, hygiene, and old age. Their chief function, among many, is to neutralize toxins in our gut that could wreak havoc on our bodies. Severe diarrhea is a reminder of how toxic these buggers can be when out of balance. These toxins can also contribute to systemic inflammation, and inflame joints.
You may start out with perfectly good genes, or genetic abnormalities that don’t show up immediately. Yet, over a few decades – or most of a lifetime – your Achilles’ heel becomes exposed. All it takes is inadequate intake of one single nutrient for disease to eventually express itself. More often it’s multiple deficiencies resulting from adherence to the modern, fast food, over-processed diet. Injury or excessive exercise can also promote osteoarthritis, as can illness. Long term use of anti-inflammatory drugs actually worsens arthritis and can cause serious side effects; yet another reason to entertain alternative therapies.
Environmental toxins also contribute to arthritis. Exposure to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) has recently been linked to osteoarthritis, especially in women. Consumer products containing PFCs include stain- and water-resistant fabrics, grease-proof paper food containers (e.g., microwave popcorn bags, french fry and pizza boxes), personal-care products (e.g., shampoo, dental floss, denture cleaners), Teflon, and other common household items. Their persistence makes them ubiquitous contaminants of humans and animals. We are swimming in a world of toxins, so be aware of what you take into your body, and the antioxidants that can protect against these deleterious substances.
So many nutrients – vitamins, minerals, oils, fiber, protein, and many phytochemicals – may be involved in maintaining healthy joints. There are so many remedies that you can experiment with to help relieve the pain of arthritis. Arthritis patients can benefit simply by drinking hot water containing raw honey and cinnamon. Taken daily, even chronic arthritis is ameliorated. Omega-3 fish oil (or krill oil) can also substantially and significantly enhance recovery from inflammation, which is necessary to withstand the wear and tear of high-level activity. Vitamin B6 promotes the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids. High-dose vitamin D (>4000 IU/day) is also usefull to quell inflammation, as are aloe and olive leaf extract. A recent pilot clinical study has shown that calcium fructoborate delivers significant benefits to people with mild knee osteoarthritis, as both calcium and boron are involved in bone and joint health. So is silicon and magnesium, which can also curb inflammation. Anti-inflammatory nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are used commonly for joint pain. However, your body can make these nutrients on its own, if provided good protein and other basic nutrients from quality food and dietary supplements.
Several anti-inflammatory foods can ease the pain and swelling of arthritis. A diet of fruits and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and kale, along with garlic, onions and leeks, showed some improvement for hip arthritis. Numerous nutrients from plants can suppress the pro-inflammatory signals that fuel arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. These including curcumin (from turmeric), resveratrol (red grapes, cranberries and peanuts), green tea , ginger, genistein (soy), quercetin (apples, onions), silymarin (milk thistle, artichoke), boswellic acid and ashwagandha. Several studies suggest the potential for these foods, herbs and spices for arthritis treatment, especially as concentrated extracts. Indeed, a large number of inexpensive natural products can modulate inflammatory responses without side effects, and contribute to pain relief and restoration of normal function. Instead of taking an aspirin or Tylenol for joint pain, consider taking Nilitis SR, a combination of turmeric, ginger, boswellia and black pepper, from America’s Finest (www.afisupplements.com).
On the other hand, foods that inflame your joints are also many and varied. Often they arise from factory farms, as both animal and vegetable products. In particular are the meat and milk from inflamed cows fed unhealthy, GMO grain and corn diets (containing pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids), and exposed to massive amounts of environmental toxins. Those toxins end up in the fat of animal products. In contrast, animals that are organic and grass-fed provide a healthy dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3s and other healthy fat nutrients. For example, organic butter is quite healthy in moderation, but conventional butter is typically loaded with pro-inflammatory fats and toxins. It has little to do with the level of saturated fat, but rather what is lurking in those fats. You can’t afford not to eat organic meat and dairy. Just remember not to overcook or char them, which basically turns good fats into bad ones.
Also tied to rheumatoid arthritis are food allergies. People with this disease contain antibodies to cow’s milk, cereal, eggs, fish and pork in their guts. In other words, their immune systems are reacting badly to these foods. The debris formed from these immune reactions is thought to become lodged in arthritic joints, and to produce inflammation. Some people must simply avoid these foods.
Last but not least, keeping your intestinal bacteria happy can positively affect many aspects of your health, including arthritis. The best way to do this is to get fiber in your diet, especially the soluble form of fiber. Sources include oats, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, nuts, flax, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, carrots, and dietary supplements such as inulin that provide fiber in concentrated form. Also consider taking probiotic supplements to replenish friendly gut bacteria, especially when taking antibiotics. This area of food science is booming with new research that promises to solve many of the riddles in modern medicine. There are thousands of species of bacteria in your gut, and unraveling their roles in health and disease may greatly impact how disease is treated.
It’s a common and convenient excuse to write off your arthritis, or other health condition, as something in your genes. But, the truth is, genes have surprisingly little to do with it. There’s a whole lot you can do – the earlier the better – to prevent and treat disease without resorting to dangerous drugs. Doing so may not only make your life less burdensome, but may also help relieve the enormous health care burden in this country, which affects all of us.