As we age, our bodies can throw a lot at us. One of the biggest challenges that many people face as they move through life is the joint disease known as arthritis.
This condition affects more than 50 million adults (and upwards of 300,000 children) throughout the country; it doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, or age—it can affect anyone. It’s also the number one cause of disability; when it’s severe it can make even basic daily functions hard to perform.
While controlling arthritis with medication is essential for some people, others with more mild bouts may find that the use of natural remedies can be another option to provide relief without the harmful side effects that drugs can sometimes bring.
What is arthritis?
One big misconception about arthritis is that it isn’t a single disease. There are more than 100 different types that encompass a broader scope of joint-related pain or disease. What they all have in common is how much they impact the joints throughout the body, leading to increased pain and reduced mobility. In severe cases, arthritis can be so crippling that joints can’t be moved at all.
The most common symptoms of arthritis include:
- Swelling of the joints
- Decreased range of motion
All of these symptoms are varied, and may last for a few hours or for a few minutes. It’s usually triggered by inflammation in the joints, whether it’s circumstantial or chronic.
Of the many types of arthritis, here are a few of the most prevalent:
This is the most common, occurring when the cartilage on the bones wears away over time, usually due to age. This leads to bone rubbing against bone when joints move, which can result in swelling, stiffness, and pain. As more cartilage wears away, symptoms can become worse.
This class includes rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, which is generally an immune system response that leads the body to attack the joints as if they were an infection. The problem is usually chronic inflammation, which if left untreated over time, can also cause joint erosion, issues with internal organs, and vision problems.
Also known as gout, this form of arthritis occurs when there is too much uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a byproduct of the body breaking down foods high in purines (like red meat); if the body can’t rid the acid quickly enough, crystals can form in the joints, leading to intense pain.
As the name suggests, this type is usually triggered by a virus, bacteria, or fungus that enters the joint and causes swelling. Certain STDs can be a culprit, as can salmonella or hepatitis. Treatment usually involves antibiotics, which in the best scenario can clear up the issue completely, though in some instances it still can become a chronic problem.
The future of arthritis treatment
Arthritis research is ongoing, as many scientists and medical professionals are diligently working to find better treatment options. Current research is focused on finding ways to stop the progression of the disease and rebuilding lost joint cartilage, among other initiatives.
Studies are also looking into biomarkers, or preventative testing, that can provide early warning to those who have a hereditary risk so more intensive measures can be taken before the problem fully erupts.
The future is promising, but for now controlling the disease and its symptoms is key, and can be done through traditional medications as well as more natural methods.
Natural remedies for arthritis
For people diagnosed with arthritis, medicine is usually the first line of defense to reduce inflammation and pain, and also prevent joint damage and minimize the progression of the disease.
However, there are many natural options that science has found can reduce arthritis symptoms, especially in those with the more common osteoarthritis. From topical options to dietary supplements and lifestyle changes, there are a number of options.
If you are overweight, this is one of the single most important steps to take. The joints support the body, particularly the knees and hips. Excess weight can place higher levels of strain on the joints, which can worsen the symptoms and progression of arthritis. However, trying to lose weight can have a major impact on improving the condition and is one of the safest, most effective remedies.
Hot and cold therapy
Alternating heat and cold on the affected areas can help as well. Soaking in a warm bath or hot tub, using electric heating pads, and taking warm showers can help loosen stiff joints and increase mobility. On the other hand, cold packs can cut down swelling and help provide temporary relief when a flare-up occurs. Combining these two treatments is an economical and convenient way to relieve symptoms.
Arthritis is a great reason to book a day at the spa. Regularly massaging arthritic joints can help ease stiffness and pain. Ask your massage therapist to show you self-massage techniques that you can use between visits.
Turmeric, the yellow spice often used in curries, is one of the most effective anti-inflammatories available in nature. It contains an antioxidant known as curcumin, which can help kill the enzymes that cause inflammation. Mix in tea, take capsules, or make some golden milk for a healthy and delicious beverage that will work twofold to combat both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis symptoms.
Try: New Chapter Turmeric Force Supplement
These vegetarian-friendly capsules are GMO-free and easy to swallow and provide 320 milligrams of the potent spice in every capsule. Used daily, it can have a big impact on reducing the swelling that causes arthritis pain to occur.
Try: Gaia Herbs Turmeric Supreme: Pain PM
Arthritis pain can make it hard to sleep, but this supplement provides an extra dose of herbs that can help reduce nagging inflammation and relax the mind and body.
Ginger is another natural anti-inflammatory spice that can help to reduce inflammation and prevent future flare-ups of arthritis. Some enjoy eating it raw or pickled, though it can also be added to a number of recipes. Another option is to make a ginger and turmeric tea for a double dose of anti-inflammatory power.
Try: Woodstock All-Natural Ginger Slices
These ginger slices are a great tasting, portable way to get a potent boost of anti-inflammatory power every day. They’re great as a snack or treat, and have just a touch of sugar (with no added sulphur) to make them more palatable.
Try: Traditional Medicinals Ginger Tea
While most ginger products can be spicy, this tea is more mild and focuses on ginger’s sweeter notes. In addition to relieving pain, ginger is great for clearing up digestive issues and nausea. It’s naturally caffeine-free, GMO-free, and made from only organic ingredients. Add a touch of turmeric in your mug for double strength power.
This essential mineral has an impact on more than 300 different biomechanical responses, including those that relieve stiffness and pain. In so doing, it can improve bone density and reduce the loss of cartilage. Magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, nuts and seeds, avocados, bananas, and dark chocolate.
Try: Source Naturals Magnesium Malate Supplement
The beauty of these capsules is that they combine magnesium and malic acid, which together support proper muscle function and helps relax them. This can also be a strong pain reliever.
This brand has a proprietary formula offering water-soluble magnesium that can go straight to work whenever you need it most; it’s also effective at combatting magnesium depletion.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3’s are found in abundance in fish oils, and are responsible for a host of health benefits from brain boosts to reduced inflammation. Eating a lot of fish or taking capsules can help to reduce joint stiffness, improve mobility, and lessen joint pain.
Try: Carlson Labs Super Omega-3 Gems Fish Oil
This fish oil supplement is filled with omega-3 fatty acids in a soft, easy-to-swallow gel cap. It contains a special concentrate of fish body oils from deep, coldwater fish including mackerel and sardines that have the highest amounts of omega-3 EPA and DHA.
Try: Deva Vegan Omega-3 DHA
Vegans, too, can get an important dose of Omega-3’s with these delayed-release softgels that source the essential fatty acids from purified algae.
Found in hot peppers like cayenne, this spicy compound has been seen to block the signals of pain that travel to the nerve receptors in the brain. Try using topical ointments that feature capsaicin to reduce pain temporarily, or you could eat some hot peppers in a pinch, too.
It’s important to speak with a medical professional before starting to use natural remedies to control arthritis. But know that there are millions of people who have found relief using the options above, and some could be worth adding to your daily regimen in order to be pain-free.
Illustration credit: Foley Wu