Coping with Arthritis
Eugene R. Zampieron
In Chinese Medicine, the liver is the chief of the ligaments, tendons, Joints and sinews of the body. Stagnation or congestion of the liver often leads to joint and muscle pain, because the amount of toxie material supercedes the detoxification rate and capacity of the liver.
The term “arthritis” is often used loosely as if it encompassed one entity, although more than 100 types of arthritis have been identified. Each of these may be caused by a myriad of underlying etiologies. It is more correctly defined as being not one disease, but as a syndrome or an aggregate of illnesses whose common features include joint pain, stiffness and inflammation. The end stage of arthritis can lead to ankylosing or fusion of the joints.
For millions of Americans, arthritis limits everyday movements such as walking, standing or even holding a pen. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, usually attributed to joint wear and tear. This is actually a mistaken concept as many elders in other civilizations show no sign of osteoarthritis despite vigorous wear and tear over their lifespan on their joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis, although less prevalent, attacks people of every age group, although it is more common in women. It is an inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues.
In gout, often called the rich man’s arthritis, a metabolic build-up of uric acid (a waste product of protein breakdown) causes razor-sharp crystals to be deposited in the joint spaces rather than eliminated through the kidneys and skin. These dagger-like crystals often find their way to the first joint of the big toe, but also attack the wrist, fingers, knees and elbows. Heat, swelling and stiffness result in excruciating discomfort for the patient.
Psoriatic arthritis occurs in 1 out of 10 patients who have psoriasis, a complex disease involving the skin, and the liver/gut/large intestine connection. The disease usually begins 10 to 20 years after the onset of psoriasis and includes swelling in many joints, but particularly the shoulders, knees, and the end of the fingers and toes.
Infectious arthritis includes diseases like septic arthritis, where bacteria or parasites invade the joint capsule (the tough membrane surrounding the joints which contains the synovial fluid) directly, or reactive arthritis (such as seen after bowel surgery).
Holistic practitioners often find that patients actually have a continuum of symptoms. For example, even those who are officially diagnosed with osteoarthritis often have some degree of autoimmune involvement.
In this first installment of our two-part series, we will focus on several physical parameters that we have seen in virtually all cases of arthritis and will offer suggestions about specific botanical medicines (herbs), and some nutritional supplements to aid this condition. We will focus on three of seven specific areas that are the underlying etiology (causes) of arthritis:
1) build-up of toxic waste products in the tissue
2) a decrease in integrity of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract
3) an overabundance of disease causing microorganisms
The root of pain
In all arthritides, but more commonly in rheumatoid and other autoimmunebased arthritis syndromes, environmental and internally generated toxins are first complexed by a non-cellular part of our immune system known as antibodies or immunoglobulins, to form circulating immune complexes (CIC’s).
In a healthy person, CIC’s are sequestered and neutralized, but in arthritis and many other disease conditions, the liver, bowels, kidneys, skin, lungs, and connective tissue by removing deleterious substances such as environmental (xenobiotic) toxins as well as those generated internally (endobiotic toxins).
Alteratives are also referred to as blood and lymphatic cleansers. Alteratives can be combined with regimes of cleansing or elimination diets, fasting, colon hydrotherapy, saunas, lymphatic drainage techniques and homeopathic detoxification and drainage remedies to further decrease the toxic load on the body, thus allowing the body to divert its energy into healing versus crisis management. Sulfur-containing supplements such as MSM, SAM-e, and the amino acids cysteine, methionine, glutathione and taurine all support the hepatic cytochrome enzymes and enable the liver to process the onslaught of toxins.
In Chinese medicine, the liver is the chief of the ligaments, tendons, joints and sinews of the body. Stagnation or congestion of the liver often leads to joint and muscle pain, because the amount of toxic material supercedes the detoxification rate and capacity of the liver.
Herbal alterative “superstars” which remedy this situation and have been utilized for arthritis include milk thistle (Silybum marianum), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and burdock (Arctium lappa).
Another critical underlying reason for the pain and inflammation of arthritis is the inability of the adrenal glands to produce adequate levels of endogenous corticosteroids. Thus, many allopathic physicians prescribe synthetic steroids such as prednisone to decrease pain and inflammation.
While this approach is indeed effective for discomfort, corticosteroids are a group of drugs endowed with dangerous side effects and should only be used for a short duration of treatment, if at all. In order to augment the body’s natural ability to produce these important hormones, naturopathic physicians and herbalists throughout the centuries have prescribed herbs known as tonics to augment the functional steroidal output of the adrenals and other endocrine glands.
The term tonic is synonymous with the more modem designation adaptogen and amphoteric. A tonic is an herb which is safe to use daily, affects many body systems (hormonal systems, organs functions, etc.), and has a balancing effect on the body, which helps people to cope with stress in a positive manner
* Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is the king of tonic herbs, creating optimal health and energy when used daily. It has been documented to enhance the production of the adrenals’ corticosteroids. It works synergistically with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
* The ancient Ayurvedic medical system from India has honored Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) for thousands of years. Modern research has discovered that Ashwaganda contains withanolides, which improve stamina, helps with stress management, and tonifies the adrenals. Bupleurem and Rehmannia are two of China’s most powerful adrenal tonics. Long-term tonic use augments the production of steroids by the adrenal glands, which combat inflammation, pain, hypoglycemia, fatigue and create well-being.
Leaky gut syndrome
Individuals suffering from joint and muscle pain due to autoimmune problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia, as well as osteoarthritis patients plagued with pain associated with the consumption of certain foods, often have a condition known as “leaky gut syndrome.”
This allows molecules that are usually too large to exit through the gastrointestinal lining to escape and enter the bloodstream, which leads to the formation of CIC’s, implicated in the production of an allergic, inflammatory response resulting in joint and muscle pain. Furthermore, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS), the pharmaceutical drugs usually prescribed for arthritic conditions, actually worsens the problem of leaky gut. Specific nutrients which coat and soothe the intestinal lining include:
* L-glutamine is an amino acid which scientific research has shown to be able to soothe irritated gut linings and help to regrow flattened “villi”–the tiny finger like protrusions that line the GI tract and act as a surface for the absorption of nutrients.
* Primrose oil supplies essential fatty acids needed to soothe and re-establish well formed cell membranes.
* Quercetin, one of the most bioactive bioflavonoids, acts as a natural antihistamine agent and blocks the production of prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These powerful inflammatory molecules are at the root of all pain and inflammation.
* Ginkgo biloba, well known for its effects on brain function, has components known as flavonoids which act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. These can help to strengthen the intestinal lining, and heal a leaky gut.
* Marshmallow root and okra are demulcents, which coat the gastrointestinal lining and heal irritated tissues.
* Scandinavian researchers who have studied the effects of fasting and its incredible anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects on arthritis, fibromyalgia, and pain postulate that fasting affords the gut time to rest. The rested gut, when provided with the proper botanicals and nutrients, becomes less permeable. This decreases the load on the gut to process foreign antigens, which also reduces the toxic load on the liver. Less formation of circulating immune complexes means less “gut garbage” being deposited in the connective tissues and joints, which creates a less inflammatory state.
The proliferation of unfriendly microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast, fungi and parasites, is often undiagnosed by conventional medicine. Yet these organisms are present in a large majority of people who suffer from a wide variety of symptoms including gas, bloating, digestive disturbances, skin rashes, allergic reactions and muscle and joint pain. The presence in the intestinal tract of an excess of these organisms is referred to as dysbiosis. Not only can this situation cause the above-mentioned symptoms, but it can activate the body’s immune system to turn against its own tissue.
Researchers such as Dr. Alan Ebringer of London have discovered that autoimmune arthritis conditions are often created when the organisms in the gut, through natural selection, mimic and camouflage themselves to resemble human tissue. By doing so, the organisms are difficult to detect by the immune system. When the immune system eventually makes antibodies to the bacteria, it also begins to make antibodies to the disguised human tissue. This is the genesis of an autoimmune disease in which the body becomes “allergic” to itself and attacks it vigorously, as is seen in rheumatoid arthritis.
In order to get rid of these “invaders” and re-establish a healthy gut flora, a variety of herbs act to discourage the growth of pathogenic organisms while building and supporting the immune system:
* Barberry root contains berberine, the yellow compound that is also found in goldenseal root. Berberine helps the liver filter out bacteria and can inhibit the growth of streptococci and other microorganisms. It helps to kill parasites and tonifies the intestinal tract.
* Citrus seed extract contains proanthocyanadins (OPC’s), biologically active flavonoids which help to heal irritations to the lining of the intestines.
* Black walnut hull is a time-honored vermifuge (worm destroyer) used traditionally in Western Herbal Medicine. It is high in tannic acid, which tonifies the digestive tract and helps rid the body of parasites.
* Thyme and oregano leaf oil are essential oils with powerful antimicrobial effects. They have been proven to destroy parasites, worms, fungi, bacteria and viruses. It is also important to “re-inoculate” the gastrointestinal tract with friendly bacteria. Acidophilus taken as a supplement can be helpful for this purpose.
As well as organisms in the colon contributing to arthritis, other intestinal toxins can trigger inflammation by stimulating a non-cellular part of the immune system known as the complement system. Complement’s job is to amplify inflammation because inflammation is the way that the body cleans house.
Dr. Eugene Zampieron is a licensed naturopathic physician in connecticut, a medical herbalist, adjunct assistant professor of botanical medicine and natural products consultant, He specializes in naturopathic treatment of rheumatology disorders. Dr. Ellen Kamhi is a respected authority on natural healing and holds degrees in nursing, education, and public health education. Excerpts are included from their books The Natural Medicine Chest (M. EVANS & COMPANY, 1999) and ARTHRITIS-The Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide (Alternative Medicine. Com Books, 1999).
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