Heal Inflammation to Help Heal Joint Pain
First published 8/25/16, recently updated 3/17/23
Gotta do my disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, I don't diagnose, treat or cure anything. If I could, I'd cure the FDA of its assault on my first amendment rights. Otherwise, I'm just sharing what I learned online, from my Functional Medicine training and from friends. Thank you for hanging out with me! Please share what you’ve learned in the comments.
David, a good friend, has rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a hideously painful and crippling auto-immune disease. Debilitating joint pain is a feature. He was diagnosed at age 27. Back then, he was told he'd be in a wheelchair tout de suite (fast), and dead not too long after that. In the meantime, he was prescribed meds to suppress the pain.
I guess healing the inflammation as a path to heal joint pain was not considered. But, geez, there's some news, eh? Told at 27 you will soon die a slow, painful death, get your ducks in a row.
My friend is not easily convinced. That was 22 years ago. He's walking, talking, happily married with children, and playing serious-league baseball with kids literally half his age! Against all advice, he refuses to take medication and works out like a fiend. Every day on his Facebook status, you see he's checked in at the gym. Relentless.
At first, he tried the pills. Those didn't work, so he started researching. Al Gore had just invented the internet (ok, I love that joke, I'll try not to wear it out) so it was not an all-encompassing encyclopedia. David had to actually GO TO THE LIBRARY and read! Which he did. Relentlessly.
Like me and probably many of you, Adele Davis was an early mentor. David changed his diet from SAD (Standard American Diet) to whole, nutrient-dense foods as organically grown as possible.
Over the years, a few things on the menu have changed. He's now grain-free, of course. Grains and joint pain do not mix! In the meantime, here's what I've learned from David, from you, and how we use that knowledge.
First: What is Inflammation?
According to experts, chronic inflammation is a primary factor in every disease. Every. Disease. Including those causing joint pain.
Note that it's chronic inflammation that's so bad. Regular inflammation is good, regular as in "acute" meaning at the moment of injury. An acute inflammatory response is needed to heal an injury.
Your cells are damaged every day by pretty much everything: sun, exercise, illness, a slip and fall, broken heart, food poisoning, indigestion, a cough, etc. When a cell is damaged, inflammation steps in to help heal or repair that cell. Once the cell is repaired, the inflammation goes away. However, when there's too much damage happening all at once (like in these disease states), the inflammatory response gets overwhelmed and just keeps going and going. This can become chronic, keeping your body in an inflammatory state 24/7.
Chronic inflammation results in a loss of communication at the cellular level, rendering it unable to repair injury and allowing disease to take hold. It's a terrible cycle, this disease/inflammatory state. One begets the other!
Click here for an excellent Chris Kresser podcast with Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker on CIRS: Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome.
Ways to Heal Inflammation and Get Symptom Relief
As a functional medicine practitioner, my primary goal is to help clients heal their health problems at the root. Symptom relief is job one! You have to feel better asap. Chronic pain is a terrible way to live. We deal with relief, then immediately move on to healing.
The following areas need attention when it comes to healing inflammation and getting symptom relief.
Every suggestion below has helped others, including Hal and I. You can do it all eventually, but no need to do it all Day One. Give a go at whatever looks good to you. Keep what works, then try the next thing. Just don't give up. #berelentless
Sulfur as Opti-MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)
An amazing supplement, it’s been well determined in the alternative health community that we are all deficient. Sulfur’s main job is to heal inflammation.
If you do nothing else on this page, at least TAKE SULFUR.
We take the recommended dose every day, buy it here. We like the Opti because it's manufactured in the US, it's trademarked and produced using a different technique which typically produces a slightly higher assayed purity %.
The powder is even cheaper BUT it tastes NASTY. Like sulfur :) We dissolve in warm water, then drink quickly. Or you can put in a shot glass, pour a little kombucha over it, toss back, then chase with a bit more kombucha. Easy, really.
If you want to know more on sulfur, go to westonaprice.org and search "Seneff". Dr. Stephanie Seneff has written quite a bit on it.
Sulfur does so much good for you, we consider it essential now!
Grass-fed hydrolyzed collagen is excellent for supporting joint health. Your joints and bones (and nails and hair) are made of collagen! Every morning, I put 1 Tbsp of Perfect Supplements Collagen in my coffee. (Use code “sallyo” for 10% off.)
It dissolves instantly, has no taste and doesn't "gel" so mixes well in tea or smoothies.
My mom as well as a few friends have used Preventix for joint pain and swear by it, plus it gets RAVE reviews on Amazon.
Diets Designed to Heal Inflammation
As many have discovered, a whole foods diet minus grains and sugars is the foundational bomb when it comes to healing inflammation. To put a name to the diet, it's more ketogenic than anything else: high fat, moderate protein, low carb (less than 50 grams of carbs a day). Paleo or Primal, even Carnivore diets work, too.
Here are the diet experts who've taught me a thing or two:
First things first. Get this cookbook: Nourishing Traditions cookbook for $16. As much real foods primer as cookbook. You will be delighted you own this incredible resource, I promise.
According to Dr. Art Ayers, who is hands-down the most-knowledgeable guy on the topic of inflammation, fixing the diet is fundamental. His first post at Cooling Inflammation in 2008 was on diet: "My impetus for writing was my growing awareness that diet was the major reason why people were sick, and that health myths were preventing people from being healthy. Inflammation originated by diet-inflicted injury..." Here's a good intro article with a link to his anti-inflammatory diet. He’s VERY sciency… sometimes too much for me!
We read Kathryne Pirtle's book Performance Without Pain a few years ago -- it changed our lives!
Then there's Dr. Terry Wahls. Her book is a phenomenal read, very inspiring. Watch Dr. Wahls tell her story (17 min) about recovering from MS by changing her diet. Outrageous testimony to the healing power of food!
Healing Heberden Nodes & Diet
My friend and sister WAPF chapter leader Ellen Ussery shared the following about gluten and Heberden Nodes (arthritis in fingers - the kind that leaves your fingers crooked). Her husband, Harvey of The Modern Homestead, was developing Heberden Nodes:
"When my husband eliminated gluten from his diet, his [Heberden Nodes] were arrested completely: no more pain!!!! And the two joints did not get any more deformed... After about 15 years they are still the same, just mildly crooked. I did not have the nodes but did have pain that was completely eliminated after going gluten-free, so I suggested that he try it too."
They also swear by Green Pastures’ FCLO/BO which we also take every day.
Gut Health to Reduce Inflammation
Yep, it ALL boils down to the gut. Hippocrates is credited with saying, "All disease begins in the gut." I'm credited with saying, "If it all begins there, it can all be healed there." Makes perfect sense, right?
In fact, every holistic health practitioner will tell you the same thing: heal your gut first because nothing else can be healed without that foundation! The most efficient way to a healthy gut is to take prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes with every meal:
Probiotics install the bacteria your gut needs to be healthy.
Prebiotics feed that bacteria
Digestive enzymes help you get the nutrients out of your food during digestion.
I take this product every day — called GutHealth — which has all three in one. Easy!
Having been an over-exerciser most of my life, I'm a fan of the less-is-more idea, particularly if there is any inflammatory and/or auto-immune disease going on.
I recommend Tabatas. Anyone, even my 87yo mother, can do a Tabata. Only four minutes at your maximum effort. < < < Click to learn more.
To improve health and fitness, start with one Tabata (4 minutes) 3-4 times a week. That's it. You can add more Tabatas as your fitness level improves to a max of 5 Tabatas at a time (20 minutes).
Not including stretching, need at least 10 minutes of gentle stretching.
More than 20 minutes of exercise starts to become counter-productive because of how it affects cortisol, your stress hormone.
Here's why you must exercise: you have to get the blood flowing, the breath moving, the heart pumping to keep the nutrients and digestion and detox mechanisms in shape.
PLUS -- and this is big if you are over 30 -- use it or lose it. If you are not doing what you can to keep your muscle strength, it is declining. Did you know that muscle mass is an indicator of longevity? If you want to keep what you have, you gotta work it.
Here's Walter Last's definitive article on Boron and Arthritis.
I have many friends who take 3-6 mg boron everyday. One in particular credits it for removing all pain from her knees in 3 weeks. She and others make their own from 40 Mule Team Borax. It's practically free, easy to make, and perfectly safe: mix a tsp Borax in a quart of water, then drink a tsp of that mix every day.
DH and I used to make our own from Borax. We now actually eat the Borax. Yes, 40 Mule Team in the coffee or smoothie or mixed in a little milk with sweetener. And we take 100 mg a day. We are not insane, we are biohackers and read up on this stuff all the time. Here’s the book where we got the insane idea that you can safely consume borax. So far, so good.
My post on how Curcumin Cures Everything
LDN (Low Dose Naltrexone)
My husband and I take this every day: he takes it for inflammation (he has bone-on-bone ankle joints) and we both take as a cancer preventive.
WHAT IT IS: Naltrexone is a generic drug used in a 50mg dose to help suffering addicts recover. However, in small daily doses (0.5 mg, about a tsp -- hence the "low dose" part of the name), it is helping millions of people find relief from various autoimmune diseases, inflammation, cancers, autism, chronic fatigue, and depression. It is extremely affordable and presents few known side effects.
There is talk in the alternative community that RA (and other diseases, like auto-immune and cancer) are based in a virus. So makes sense to take an anti-viral. Here's what we take.
I've had the herpes virus ever since I can remember. About 10 years ago, I started taking lysine, took 500mg every day for 2 years. I used to get cold sores so huge, that my husband would name them. Yeah, funny. But, since the end of that 2-year mark, I almost never get an outbreak and, when I do, it's just a bump on my lip, then goes away. No monster anything and no pain.
I stopped taking it regularly for a few years, but still no outbreaks. Even so, we've added it back. Seems like there's a virus under every rock these days...
Please, please, please
Share what else we need to know/recommend. What has worked for you to heal joint pain? What on the list above has NOT worked for you? Thanks -- anything you share is greatly appreciated!
Great article, Sally! In your smoothie recipe nowadays are you using potato starch instead of inulin? I have been trying to rejigger my gut and the RS idea is helpful. I’ve been making my own coconut kefir using coconut cream. Then I second ferment it to add more probiotics. It’s very thick and smooth! I also use potato starch to thicken sauces. It doesn’t have the slime factor you find in arrowroot.