Arthritis literally translates as “joint inflammation”. There are many different types of arthritis (over 100 actually), including osteoarthritis (the break down of cartilage in the joint) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints.). All forms of arthritis involve damage to the joints of the body and is characterized by pain that may be constant or come and go and may be accompanied by swelling or inflammation as well as stiffness and fatigue.
According to Chinese Medicine, a holistic system of medicine that looks at imbalance in different body systems as being the root of disease and discomfort, there are a few main patterns for arthritis. There is the ‘damp’ type, the ‘hot’ type, ‘cold’ type and the ‘windy’ type. It sounds like a weather report I know, but when you look at the characteristics of hot, cold, wind or damp, and the nature of the type of arthritic pain, it starts to make a lot of sense.
The “Cold” type of arthritis according to TCM has characteristic such as a fixed, severe pain feels better with heat, worse in cold weather or when cold is applied. It feels like a fixed or stabbing pain (think of water when it freezes – it doesn’t move) and feels better with movement. It tends to affect the extremities (hands and feet) most and often the low back as well.
The “Hot” type is characterized by severe pain that is accompanied by red, hot and swollen joints. It is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, thirst, irritability and anxiety. The pain is generally relieved by applying something cold to the joint, and this pain will get worse in the hot weather or when heat is applied.
The “Wind” type is characterized by a sudden onset, joint soreness or pain that moves from joint to joint (think of the characteristics of wind – It blows things around). Movement is limited and tends to affect the upper body more and is seen in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis. This type tends to get worse in windy weather or the person has an aversion to wind.
The “Damp” type has a lot of soreness, stiffness and swelling (think what happens when you soak something in water – It expands). There is a feeling of heaviness and numbness that accompanies this type, and the pain is fixed. This type gets aggravated by a damp environment or with damp weather (a person with this type would be able to tell you when it’s going to rain out). It more often affects the lower body and is often seen in the middle stages of rheumatoid arthritis. This type easily combines with any of the other types.
Once you’ve been able to identify your type, the key is figuring out what to do to make it better.
According to Paul Pitchford author of “Healing with Whole Foods” – “We have yet to know – or even hear of – a case of arthritis in which painful symptoms persisted more than a few months after the start of a high quality protein and vegetable based regime”
So that’s hopeful news, but what exactly does that mean? And what does that look like for you?
If you’re the damp type, it’s important to avoid ‘damp’ environments. For some this might mean trying to get away somewhere dry and hot in the damp weather or it might mean picking some exercise other than swimming. As for food, you’ll want to avoid and damp producing foods – dairy product are very cold and damp forming and can create a mucus buildup in the body. Soy products are also dampening as is sugar, over-consumption of meats, greasy or friend foods, eggs and too much salt. Foods that are great to dry dampness include lettuce (particularly boston or bib type), celery, turnip, rye, amaranth, aduki beans, asparagus, alfalfa, seaweeds, and barley. Eating some of these foods regularly (cooking them is the best way to get them avoiding them raw), will help to leech some of the dampness out, reduces swelling and help your joints heal.
If you’re the cold type you want to avoid cold foods, this means ‘energetically’ cold foods (things like peppermint or watermelon are naturally cooling – think of how you feel after having a slice of watermelon on a hot summer day) as well as foods that are cold in temperature or raw (the energy that it takes to ‘heat up’ these foods is taking too much from your body and adding more cold in, making the condition worse – i.e. ice cream or salads). You should always consume warm or cooked foods and try to focus on the warming spices like cinnamon, cumin, ginger, fennel etc. when cooking. The winter or autumn vegetables would be best (root vegetables: turnip, carrots, squash etc.) and best avoid the summer fruits and vegetables (watermelon, summer fruits, cucumber etc.). Nature has a way of balancing things out – the foods grown in the summer are naturally cold to help balance the heat of the summer months. When eaten in the colder weather or when someone has too much cold, it upsets the balance adding too much cold. Conversely, the foods grown in the cooler weather are more warming and help to balance out that cold weather or condition.
If you’re the hot type you should avoid hot or spicy foods (hot peppers, ginger etc.), alcohol, coffee, overly hot environments (like saunas or hot yoga), and hot compresses.
If you’re one who related to the ‘wind’ type, some foods to include regularly include celery, oats, pine nuts, shrimp, flax oil, black sesame seeds and sage.
Try to avoid crab, buckwheat and eggs as well as over exposure to windy weather and be sure to keep your neck covered.
In addition to these foods and types of arthritis, there are some other food categories that can help strengthen joints and bones.
Calcium is crucial to bone and joint health and making sure the body has adequate consumption of calcium rich foods that are easily absorbed is very important. Dairy is often not easily absorbed by many, particularly those with the damp symptoms. High quality and easily absorbable sources of calcium include: seaweeds, almonds, broccoli, sardines, amaranth grain, parsley, black beans, spirulina and kale.
Magnesium is an important part of the mineral matrix of bones. It also helps ‘push’ the calcium out of the muscles and into the bones. It is great for relaxing the smooth muscle tissue and has some anti-inflammatory effects. Some foods high in magnesium include: legumes, dark leafy greens like kale, whole grains and seeds as well as seaweeds and chlorella.
Sulfur is a mineral that is anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and it is essential for the rebuilding of bones, tendons, cartilage and connective tissue. Foods rich in sulfur include: asparagus, eggs, fresh garlic and onions, broccoli, mustard greens and brussel sprouts.
Silica is an integral part of all connective tissues of the body (blood vessels, tendons, cartilage as well essential for efficient calcium utilization. Foods rich in silica include: all lettuce, parsnips, millet, oats, brown rice, dandelion greens, strawberries, celery, cucumber (particularly the peel), apricots, beets, carrots and alfalfa.
Turmeric (the spice) and bromelain (found in pineapples) are also great for removing inflammation in the body and turmeric has the added effect of helping the body to detoxify.
The big foods to avoid as they leech calcium from the body are ones that have oxalic acid. Spinach, chard, beet greens, rhubarb, cranberries and plums all contain oxalic acid so should be used sparingly. Over consumption of meat, soft drinks, coffee, and alcohol are also something to watch, as the acidic nature of them leeches calcium from the bones. Uric acid found in meats, anchovies, herring, mushrooms, mussels, sardines, alcohol and fried foods can cause flair ups of arthritis as well and in particular gout.
By consuming some of these mineral rich foods daily you can help strengthen your body and slowly but surely help ease the pain and discomfort associated with arthritis. Food might seem like a simple answer, but it’s something we do every day and the little things over the long-term, make a big difference
And hey, it’s a tasty way to feel better!