Omega-3 fatty acids and gingerroot have demonstrated promise in alleviating the pain associated with arthritis. Here's a look at how each of these healing agents works:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Hope has been raised most by fish oils, of all things. It's the omega-3 fatty acids in fish -- the same stuff people were popping in the mid-1980s to fend off heart disease -- that may offer relief.
It's not such a fishy finding.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to exert anti-inflammatory action by prompting the body to decrease inflammation. Several studies of RA sufferers have reported an easing of joint pain and less fatigue after taking fish oils; the discomfort and fatigue returned when the supplements were discontinued.
But this connection is far from proven and certainly not a cure. Despite optimistic results from omega-3s, the disease remains active, the relief is modest, and it appears that the therapy may need to be continued on a long-term basis to be of any real help. Don't start popping fish-oil capsules without your health care professional's approval, either. There can be serious side effects, including prolonged bleeding and an increased risk of stroke.
Then again, it certainly can't hurt to start eating more fish; it's part of a healthful diet anyway. Some reports say a half pound of fish a day may do the trick. If you can't manage that, try two or three servings a week.
Those who want to eat omega-3 foods but are intolerant of fish can choose other alternatives such as dried beans, broccoli, canola oil, chinese greens, flaxseed oil, ground flaxseeds, kale, legumes, salad greens, soybeans, soy milk, soy oil, tofu, walnut oil, walnuts, and wheat germ.
Gingerroots (technically the underground stems or rhizomes) have a long history of use in India for people with OA and RA. This spicy addition to many Asian cuisines reduces inflammation by blocking the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme -- the very same enzyme that medications called COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex, were developed to suppress.
Most of the COX-2 medications, however, were taken off the market because of cardiovascular side effects. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also used to treat OA and RA, but they irritate the stomach. Ginger does not cause stomach irritation; in fact, it protects the digestive tract by increasing blood flow to the stomach, which brings with it bicarbonate to help control stomach acid. Consume at least a two-inch cube of fresh rhizome or 1 to 2 teaspoons ginger powder (less than six months old) two or three times per day. Larger amounts may be recommended by an herbal practitioner if your arthritis is severe.
The Allergy Angle
Because RA symptoms come and go, it's tempting to blame the condition on food allergies. About a third of RA sufferers do claim that certain foods trigger flare-ups of their symptoms. The connection could just be coincidence. But if an allergic reaction can indeed provoke symptoms, it's likely to be very individual.
There is no one food that can trigger arthritis symptoms in everyone. That means there is no single food everyone can avoid or one diet for all to follow that could cure this condition.
If you want to test yourself for food allergies, visit a registered dietitian so you can be monitored on a nutritionally sound elimination diet. Such a regimen starts with a simple diet that eliminates any possible allergy-producing foods, then adds them back one at a time, so that any consequences can be observed. A caution: Beware of any diet that eliminates entire food groups for a long period of time.
In any case, try to protect yourself from food-borne illnesses, as these can precipitate a temporary attack of Reiter's syndrome, a reactive arthritis triggered by eating contaminated food.
The natural remedies we've described in this article won't cure arthritis -- but they do have the potential to take away some of the pain and inflammation.
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