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Arthritis Explained: Part 1

The month of October saw ‘World Arthritis Week’. Arthritis describes a swelling of the joints which is often accompanied by symptoms of pain and stiffness and in some cases physical disfigurement. This can be a result of simple ‘wear and tear’, however some forms of arthritis are caused by one or more underlying chronic health conditions.

The good news is that there is plenty you can do to combat the condition, from diet and supplementing to exercise and general lifestyle changes. This article discusses the different types of arthritis and explores their possible root causes, identifying the many diet and lifestyle changes that can help to alleviate your symptoms.


Osteoarthritis is associated with wear and tear of the cartilage within your joints. It is commonly (but not exclusively) linked to the ageing process. Under the age of 45, osteoarthritis is more common in men, while over the age of 45, women are more likely to suffer. By the time they get to fifty, 80% of people will have symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, which is experienced as a stiffness in the hips, back, knees or other joints. Joints may become increasingly swollen and stiff. The biggest risk factors for osteoarthritis are joint overuse and ageing, however, other causes include injury, obesity, nutritional factors, genetics and metabolic disorders.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis results from an autoimmune issue, triggered by genetics, or a bacterial or viral component, and possibly also environmental or lifestyle factors. About 80% of sufferers are women. The body for reasons that are not clearly understood, develops antibodies that attack its own cartilage and connective tissue. Over time, joints become inflamed and enlarged. The key to improving symptoms of arthritis is to work on the underlying causes while also treating the symptoms.

The role of fibrin in arthritis

Fibrin is a protein that forms into a natural mesh-like substance, which makes our scar tissue and scabs, playing a vital part in healing of wounds. When the body detects an injury or tissue damage, it responds by dispatching white blood cells to the injury site in order to fight off any infection. This results in an inflammation or swelling and the creation of fibrin. The protective fibrin mesh ‘seals off’ the site until the injury heals, at which point it becomes unnecessary and breaks down naturally and the inflammation subsides.

Fibrin also plays a major role in the development of arthritis. When the fibrin does not break down but continues to build up around the site of injury or joint (in the case of arthritis), it begins to harden and cause further painful inflammation. Research shows that, over the age of 50, it is harder for the inflammation to recede once it has been triggered. In addition, pharmaceutical drugs and natural remedies cannot work efficiently in the presence of fibrin, as they are unable to penetrate the hardened mesh to tackle the underlying inflammation. Fibrin and inflammation are the root cause of arthritic pain. There is no pain killer that targets fibrin, so arthritis is largely immune to standard painkillers. The way to break down fibrin is with proteolytic enzymes. These naturally occurring enzymes break down unwanted proteins in the body, including fibrin. Young children and adults produce plentiful amounts of proteolytic enzymes, however, as we age we produce significantly less and are therefore less able to break down fibrin, making us more susceptible to arthritis.

By the age of fifty, 80% of people will have arthritis

Important factors in managing arthritis

Digestion and detoxification - Even when inflammation occurs elsewhere in the body, the digestive tract is often where the scene is set. If the gut environment's delicate balance is disturbed, this can lead to bacterial infections, parasites, intestinal permeability (aka ‘leaky gut’), allergies and intolerances.

What happens next is partially digested food proteins leak into the bloodstream, along with other toxins and microbes, putting greater pressure on the body’s detoxification processes. Once the liver starts to become overtaxed, any dietary or environmental toxins may cause further inflammation. A programme that works on creating a good gut environment is desirable. Probiotics and prebiotics can be very helpful, as can food intolerance testing (see below). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. There is considerable research showing that all autoimmune diseases require 3 factors:

  • A genetic predisposition

  • A trigger

  • A ‘leaky gut’

Addressing gut issues is thus an important element in treating any case of rheumatoid arthritis.

Blood sugar balance - There is a well-established link between inflammation and your body's response to insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar levels). If your body has a reduced sensitivity to insulin, sugar or insulin remain in the blood, triggering inflammatory reactions. Learning to balance blood sugar levels plays a key role in managing the symptoms of arthritis. This is achieved through:

  • eating adequate amounts of healthy protein at every meal and snack

  • increasing the amount of non-starchy vegetables

  • considering the quality and the quantity of the starchy carbohydrates you eat.

All my nutrition programmes are based on easy to follow, blood sugar balancing diets that focus on real foods which keep you full and satisfied throughout the day.

Inflammation - The vast majority of joint issues are linked to inflammation. When working correctly, the body produces chemicals that create or reduce inflammation. The main chemicals in this process are called prostaglandins, of which there are three types. Types one and three are anti-inflammatory, while type two is inflammatory. Diets that are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated animal fats (found in meat and dairy - particularly non-organic) promote the production of undesirable type two prostglandins, resulting in increased inflammation. Excessive sugar and insulin can also have this effect. Diets that are rich in omega-3 fats, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp, chia seeds and oily fish are anti-inflammatory and so increasing these, while limiting or removing animal fats and dairy can help to reduce symptoms of arthritis.

Free radicals and Antioxidants

Another group of chemicals that contribute to the development of arthritis are free radicals. These are highly reactive oxygen molecules that you might have heard of in skincare commercials, and which are linked to accelerated ageing, cancer and other diseases. In order to keep free radicals in check, we require antioxidants Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables tend to be the best sources of antioxidants and different colours indicate different varieties; all are good.

Antioxidants have a synergistic effect , which means that eating a variety of different ones (by eating different coloured fruit and veg) has a greater effect than eating the same volume of a single type. Bottom line? Eat a lot of vegetables and low sugar fruits like berries (which have some of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruit, while being relatively low in sugar).

If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, talk to me about whether the more restrictive autoimmune paleo diet would work for you. This cuts out all grains, nightshade foods (like potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and aubergines) and other foods thought to play a role in causing an inflammatory environment. Get in touch to arrange a free, no obligation discovery call.


Many people with inflammatory conditions have allergies or intolerances, some of which may be due to leaky gut, where food proteins are able to permeate the gut lining, triggering an allergic response. Common triggers are dairy products, yeast, wheat and gluten, other grains, eggs, beef, chilli, coffee and peanuts. If you suffer from arthritis – or in fact any other inflammatory condition, consider taking a food intolerance test. Ask me for details.

Part 2 on Arthritis gives you dietary and supplement advice to discuss with a healthcare professional in formulating a programme to help you address your symptoms. Part 2 of this series discusses the role that nutrition plays in combating arthritis and gives advice on foods to eat and foods to avoid, as well as tips on the best herbs and supplements available to you.

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