The “itis” in “arthritis” means inflammation. Inflammation is the most basic problem in all arthritis, whether it is what we traditionally call “inflammatory arthritis,” like autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis, or the arthritis most associated with wear and tear on joints over time, osteoarthritis.
The traditional medical approach to these two kinds of joint inflammation is to use different medications, depending on the type or arthritis, to block the inflammation process. Although these can be successful in decreasing symptoms and can in some cases prevent further joint destruction, the medications don’t get at the root cause of why you developed the inflammation in the first place.
Functional medicine takes a deeper look at the causes of inflammation and gives you options for reversing the process where it starts: in the gut, in the mouth, from your food, and from the stress response. Traditionally, doctors almost never evaluate these areas when addressing joint pain, but fortunately functional medicine has the tools to do just that.
This is exactly why Dr. Blum, our Medical Director of Blum Center for Health, the medical center where I am a Functional Nurse Practitioner, is hosting the Healing Arthritis Challenge, a LIVE online 10-week arthritis gamechanger, designed to give you the exact same arthritis protocol we use with private patients — the exact food plan, our favorite, go-to supplements, the exact gut protocol and the exact lifestyle influencers — that you need to live a vibrant, pain-free life. Take a look, it’s closing soon! See it Now
What Your Gut and Mouth Have to Do with Arthritis
The mouth and the gut are two of the biggest reservoirs of beneficial bacteria in the body. These bacteria are vital to our health and we can’t live without them. Normally, the bacteria in the gut do many good things for us, like nourishing our gut lining to keep it healthy—but keep in mind that the health of these bacteria depends on things like eating plenty of fiber, avoiding sugar, having very little exposure to antibiotics, and having strong digestive power.
Gut bacteria can become a major source of inflammation, if the bacteria are not in balance, leading over time to a condition called leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability. Leaky gut allows the bacteria, food particles and inflammation to seep out of the gut and spread throughout the body, especially to the joints, causing pain and inflammation. Research has borne out this connection: many people with arthritis will experience significant reduction or reversal of their joint pain and inflammation by rebalancing their gut flora with a program of food, antibacterial herbs, probiotics, and glutamine.
In a similar way, the abundant bacteria in the mouth can create inflammation in the body in people with gingivitis or periodontal disease. The inflamed gums allow the inflammation generated by the bacteria to enter the body and cause system-wide inflammation. One of the most important things you can do to prevent this trigger for joint pain, in addition to eating a diet low in sugar and high in vegetables, is to floss every day and have your teeth cleaned regularly. Studies have shown—and it is our experience at Blum Center—that for a certain percentage of people with inflammatory arthritis, reversing their periodontal disease also reversed or reduced their joint disease.
The Food You Eat & Arthritis
At Blum Center, we have any number of patients with both osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis who have done an elimination diet and found out that by eliminating foods such as gluten and dairy, their joint pain got much better. When they reintroduce these foods, they get a flare of pain. Most of the time, their rheumatologist will tell them that eliminating foods will not help arthritis, but we see the benefits every day and medical research supports the association as well.
And, Yes, Stress is a Major Arthritis Trigger
And then there’s stress! We so often leave it for last, I think because we find it so challenging to figure out what to do about it. When stress comes into the body, it can make a significant impact on our biochemistry by changing hormone balance, energy production, and digestive power. Many of these biochemical changes lead to some form of inflammation and patients’ experiences as well as our own show us that a flare of symptoms often follows a stressful time. Doing practices like meditation, listening to beautiful music, restorative yoga, a walk in nature can shift this inflammatory biochemistry even when you may not be able to eliminate the life events that are triggering a stress response. Ten minutes of focused breathing or meditation can make a world of difference as well as a difference in our world!
Meet Elizabeth: In her dual role as our Functional Medicine Nurse Practitioner and a teacher in our Mind.Body.Spirit programs at Blum Center for Health, Elizabeth Greig, MSN, FNP, helps treat and heal patients with complex chronic health conditions. Whether she’s treating a medical condition or leading a class in meditation, Elizabeth helps people understand that when it comes to healing, it’s more about nourishing life, than it is about battling illness. Learn more about Elizabeth’s practice.