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A Nutritional Approach to Arthritis
Dr. Steve Blake, ScD
"I've made all the changes that Steve recommended in his class. I am feeling so much better. I have less inflammation and I can sleep at night."
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Please see below for an article on osteoarthritis.
A Natural Approach to Arthritis
By Steve Blake, ScD
Seventy million Americans have inflammatory joint pain. Unlike the “silent” diseases such as diabetes and clogged arteries, osteoarthritis can be painful and disabling. Osteoarthritis is a disease in which cartilage in joints may become stiffer and may wear away. Common locations for this cartilage loss include the knees, hips, and fingers. A healthy whole food vegan diet can supply vital nutrients to help prevent and treat arthritis. Nutrition is important in another way, too. The balance and quality of dietary fats and oils can also powerfully influence our inflammatory response.
Cartilage is constantly being formed and broken down. We need to build cartilage as fast as it wears away to prevent arthritis. There are many nutrients involved in keeping cartilage healthy. Cartilage is built upon collagen, so we need to include nutrients that promote healthy collagen as well.
Activity and Weight
One of the risk factors for arthritis is inactivity. When joints are sore, it is harder to get moving. However, gentle movement such as walking is very helpful in many cases. On the other hand, joint-pounding exercise such as running can further damage tender joints. It is always helpful to wear soft insoles in your shoes to cushion knee and hip joints.
Another risk factor for hip and knee arthritis is excess weight. Losing weight is easy, delicious, and cheap. A healthy diet to lose weight could consist of ¼ fresh fruit, ½ fresh vegetables, enough beans and whole grains to satisfy hunger, and a few nuts or seeds. This kind of a diet can easily satisfy all of your nutritional needs if a source of vitamin B12 is included.
The Medical Approach
Our modern medical system has three ways of helping arthritis. Physical therapy can be very helpful. Drugs can reduce inflammation and hide the pain. Surgery is also common, especially hip replacement surgery.
Unfortunately, pain pills do not stop the progress of the disease and side effects can be a problem. Drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen cause stomach and intestinal bleeding leading to 40,000 deaths and 70,000 hospitalizations each year. Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is not safe either, as it may cause liver damage in some people. The newer COX-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex® may increase our risk of fatal heart attacks. These are good reasons to adopt a natural approach.
Decrease inflammation—less omega-6s & more omega-3s
Omega-6 oils can contribute to excessive inflammation. The most potent dietary form of omega-6 is called arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid powerfully increases inflammation in our bodies. Arachidonic acid is found only in animal products. The biggest sources of arachidonic acid in American diets are turkey, chicken, and eggs. Arachidonic acid is much more powerful in increasing inflammation than the plant omega-6s. It is also a good idea to reduce plant sources of omega-6s such as cooking oil and salad oils. It is always healthiest to get our fats and oils from whole foods such as nuts, avocados, beans, and seeds.
Omega-3s are well-known to reduce inflammation. Fish oil contains the most powerful forms of omega-3s. Unfortunately, fish oil is commonly contaminated with environmental toxins. Even “fish oils” made from algae still have the potential to reduce our immune power and to increase bleeding. A much healthier way to get our omega-3s is from walnuts and flax seed powder. In order for these gentler plant omega-3s to work to reduce inflammation, we need to also reduce our intake of omega-6s from bottled oils—yes, even olive oil!
Using my own dietary analysis software, I have found that many common diets—even vegan diets—have omega-6s overbalancing omega-3s by ten to one or more. Two to one would be an ideal balance to reduce inflammation. When I re-analyzed these diets with the addition of walnuts or flax seed powder, the balance became more favorable to quench inflammation. Perilla, clary sage, and chia seeds all have abundant omega-3s.
The creation in our bodies of inflammation-quenching leukotrienes from plant-based omega-3s requires several nutrients. A whole food vegan diet will supply these nutrients in abundance as long as a source of vitamin B12 is included. Green leafy vegetables can supply the needed calcium, magnesium, and iron. Nuts and seeds can supply zinc, copper, and vitamin E.
Antioxidants help with arthritis
In one study, those with enough Vitamin C had one-third the risk of cartilage loss compared to those with low vitamin C levels. Those with high vitamin C intake also had a reduced risk of developing knee pain. Beta-carotene, also found in fruits and vegetables, has been shown to cut the risk of arthritis in half. Vitamin E, found in nuts and seeds, helps synovial fluid lubricate joints. Almonds and hazelnuts are rich in alpha-tocopherol. Soybeans and avocados are rich in gamma-tocopherol.
Soy foods help with arthritis
Synovial fluid lubricates joints to prevent wear. Synovial fluid is made primarily from a type of fat found in soybeans (phosphatidylcholine). A recent study found that soy phospholipids significantly reduced the development of arthritis. Soy products were also found to reduce the inflammation in arthritic joints.
Collagen is a fibrous protein that provides the framework of cartilage.
Certain nutrients are necessary for building collagen to support healthy cartilage. These nutrients are vitamin C, iron, copper, and manganese. They were found to be low in many common diets. Both a “low carb” diet and a standard American diet were quite low in vitamin C. My analysis of whole food vegan diets reveals an abundance of these nutrients that are needed to build collagen.
SAMe has been found to be effective in osteoarthritis
A 24-month trial found that 400 mg per day of SAMe (S-AdenosylMethionine) helped with arthritis over two years with excellent long-term tolerance. The subjects showed clinical improvements after 2 weeks and continued to improve until the end of the study when 18% of the patients were symptom free. SAMe is naturally produced in our bodies when levels of vitamin B12 and folate are adequate.
Glucosamine sulfate is a natural constituent of cartilage and is widely used in the treatment of
osteoarthritis. Vegan glucosamine sulfate supplements are more likely to be free of contaminants and cruelty. One study showed that they were safe, effective, and a cost-effective treatment for knee osteoarthritis. About two percent of supplemental glucosamine can be incorporated in cartilage. The reason that many studies do not show any benefits for glucosamine sulfate is that many of the studies are too short. It takes 6-8 weeks for initial effects and six months for full benefits to be achieved. When compared to common pain pills (NSAIDs), glucosamine was less effective at first, but was equally as effective as pain pills by week 8 of the study.
Devil’s Claw for the treatment of arthritis (Harpagophytum Procumbens)
Looking at a meta-study of Devil’s Claw, this study found, “Moderate evidence of effectiveness for the use of a Harpagophytum powder at 60 mg harpagoside in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the spine, hip and knee.”
Boswellia in the treatment of arthritis
According to a study on boswellia serrata (frankincense), “All patients receiving frankincense reported a decrease in knee pain, increased knee flexion, and increased walking distance. The frequency of swelling in the knee joint was also decreased. The observed differences between treated and placebo being statistically significant, are clinically relevant.”
Sanders and Grundmann, The Use of Glucosamine, Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), and Acupuncture as Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Osteoarthritis, 2011 Volume 16, Number 3 Alternative Medicine Review.