Simplify your life - Natural pain relief that are worth looking into - I don't mind being the guinea pig! [not a doctor!]

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Living with arthritis sucks. Not only does it drain your energy and kills your mood, it also misleads the people around you. Some days you are fine (usually because you didn’t eat certain foods or took your meds or didn’t do excessive exercise and stretched and did yoga and had a full 8 hours sleep with no interruptions, or a combination of these things) and other days you are not. The problem is, there is no way of knowing beforehand. And when people see you one day running around with no problem, they tend to find it difficult to fathom why you are complaining about pain the next time.

Most of these inflammatory conditions are invisible, with only the sufferer and his or her closest people really understanding the breadth of the condition. The symptoms are also ever-changing, and they differ in severity. Today you can do something with little discomfort, tomorrow it is out. If I take myself as an example - yesterday I was fine. I could bend and walk and pick up the girls. No problem. This morning I got up stiff and sore. As the day went on it worsened, and here where I am sitting now, I don’t really know how I am going to get up… Good days and bad days. Usually I can tell why, and the reason for this flare up is no exception. We had pizza for lunch 2 days ago, and birthday cake afterwards. Yeah, those are no-go’s, but it was my Mom’s birthday and we celebrated. And yesterday and today I am paying the price.

I was diagnosed with arthritis about 6 months ago. My preliminary tests indicated Rheumatoid, but my rheumatologist was not entirely convinced. Maybe osteo, maybe oligo, or any of the other arthritis variations. He also considered fibromyalgia, but before he could make a definite diagnosis I stopped going to him. I was tired of being prodded and poked and just getting more and more pills while nothing else really changed. That really riled me - why is healthcare only defined by the medication that you can be prescribed? Why do our medical practitioners (most of them in any case) not consider other factors? And then recommend a holistic approach? Do the medical community not understand that inflammation is caused by something that irritates the immune system, and that SOMETHING can be anything from physical activity to food allergens.

So I set out on the journey by myself, doing a lot of research, trying a handful of things and making a list of more things to try. Here is my list of tried and tested (and failed) natural pain relief remedies with a few things I still need to try sprinkled in:

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[disclaimer - I am not a medical doctor. All of the below treatments and remedies were tested by myself, not under the supervision of a qualified doctor. Any results, opinions or consequences are mine alone and I take no responsibility for anyone else who is brave (stupid?) enough to try them without consent of their doctor. I also acknowledge that everyone experiences things differently, and their body’s might not respond similarly to how mine did]

1.      Maintain a healthy weight

Carrying extra bulk puts more pressure on your joints, especially your knees, hips and feet. This is something I definitely experienced, and can confirm with others in my life also affected by arthritis. If you struggle with joint issues and are overweight lose the weight!

2.      Get active

The more you move, the more you force your body to stay mobile and flexible. The experts do not agree on what type of exercise, so you need to either pick a side or try both and make up your own mind. I can run (yes with pain the next day, but it is worth it) and I do yoga and Pilates. I do not respond well to weight lifting, even if I use light weights. Riding a bike is a definite no.

3.      Hot and cold therapy

Have not done any cold therapy, but heard from reputable sources that it works better than heat. Long warm showers give me a lot of relief, easing stiffness. I use a heat pack when my hips are bad. Will try the cold treatment next. Don’t know if I must alternate?

4.      Acupuncture

Have been threatening to try this for such a long time! But I am a bit scared of needles, so first need to get over that. Will keep you posted!

5.      Meditation

This is something new that I have only started to try. I don’t have a lot of free time during the day, but have started to make some time specifically for meditation. I feel a bit silly, so again first need to work internally before I can reap the rewards externally. I think the biggest advantage of meditation is the stress relief, and since stress is directly linked to inflammation you are on the right track!

6.      Supplements, herbs and spices

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This is a long list, so will discuss each individually:

a.       Fish oil

High in omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil has been shown to reduce joint pain and stiffness. I drink cod liver oil almost every morning (I forget about every 3rd or 4th day) and I can feel the difference. Relatively inexpensive, these capsules also keeps me healthy and strong.

b.      SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine)

SAM-e acts as an analgesic and has anti-inflammatory properties. It may stimulate cartilage growth and also affects neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which reduce pain perception. Two studies have shown that it relieves arthritis symptoms as effectively as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with fewer side effects and more prolonged benefit. Have not tried it yet myself, only recently came upon this info.

c.       Boswellia Serrate (Indian frankincense)

The active components (Boswellic acids) have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It also may help prevent cartilage loss and inhibit the autoimmune process. In a 2008 study, the extract, also known as Loxin 5, significantly improved arthritis pain and function within seven days. An Indian study also revealed it slowed cartilage damage after three months of use. I struggle to find this in supplement form, and since I do not feel comfortable ingesting essential oils I cannot yet try this.

d.      Ginger

Numerous studies have found that ginger can mimic NSAIDs, the front-line drugs for arthritis pain relief. It seems to work by curbing pain-causing chemicals that are part of the body’s inflammatory response—without side effects of medication. I drink ginger tea and add the spice and fresh ginger to almost anything I cook, and use the essential oil topically. Have yet to take it orally in essential oil form, and have not found it in supplement form yet. I do find that the tea soothes me.

e.       Curcumin (turmeric)

Curcumin is the chemical in turmeric that can reduce joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. I have read a lot about turmeric lately, and have thus increased the use in our cooking. If I find it in supplement form I definitely will get some! I have also seen that they make a poultice with a paste of turmeric, honey and rosemary. Next time!

f.       Capsaicin (capsicum frutescens)

Capsaicin temporarily reduces substance P, a pain transmitter. Its pain-relieving properties have been shown in many studies, including a 2010 study published in Phytotherapy Research, which revealed a 50 percent reduction in joint pain after three weeks of use. It is available as a topical cream, gel or patch. Not yet, but soon!

g.      Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)

ASU blocks pro-inflammatory chemicals, prevents deterioration of synovial cells, which line joints, and may help regenerate normal connective tissue. A large three-year study published in 2013 showed that ASU significantly reduced progression of hip OA compared with placebo. A 2008 meta-analysis found that ASU improved symptoms of hip and knee OA, and reduced or eliminated NSAID use. Only learned about this now, when researching for this post. So yet to try it BUT I am sceptic and careful when it comes to soy, so will first research a bit more before trying to track some down.

h.      Aloe vera

Apply topically to soothe aching joints. I use aloe vera in most of my homemade lotions and creams, so I get a good dose in almost every day. No marked difference unfortunately.

i.        Cat’s claw

Another new one I just discovered now, but which I most likely will not try out. Cat’s claw may reduce swelling in arthritis, but it may also overstimulate the immune system and make arthritis pain worse. No thanks.

j.        Eucalyptus

My favourite scent, and luckily a great ally in my fight against pain. Topically it reduces pain and swelling, and diffused the scent helps to keep me calm and focused. With no side effects!

k.      Rosemary

One of my most-used essential oils. It works almost immediately and the effect is longer lasting than what you would expect.

l.        Arnica oil

Again, works great. I add some to my bath water to make sure I get as much contact as possible. Definite relief in a bottle!

m.    Garlic

Garlic helps to suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and if inflammation is prevented, the progression of arthritic joints and the resultant symptoms will be reduced. Problem? The benefits are mostly gathered from raw garlic, and that is an acquired taste. I don’t mind it, but think in quantities that will be needed to feel relief it will be too much… pass.

n.      Vitamin D

Many people with arthritis are deficient in vitamin D, which appears to play a role in the production of collagen in joints. Studies find that getting more vitamin D may protect joints from osteoarthritis damage. I try to spend at least 20min outside, every day. Not only does it help my body make vitamin D, it also helps with my general mood.

o.      Cinnamon

Noted to help with aches and pains, especially when they are worse with cold or cold weather. Problem? The dosage is too tricky to work out, and if you take too much it can actually worsen your health. So not on my list to try.

p.      Willow Bark

Has been found to have anti-inflammatory properties which assist with pain relief. In fact, it has very similar qualities to everyday aspirin. But, if taken in large doses it can actually stop your kidneys. Not a chance I want to take.

q.      Proteolytic enzymes

Some research shows they can decrease pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis, increase mobility in people with osteoarthritis and fight infections by controlling inflammatory responses. The enzymes in question includes bromelain (found in pineapple) and papain (found in pawpaws), with the doses varying depending on the kind of enzymes, but recommendations are usually around 500 milligrams to 2,000 milligrams taken three times a day between meals. Have not tried yet.

r.        Magnesium

Magnesium supplements can help curb the pain associated with swollen joints. If you have a deficiency even more so. Add Epsom salt to your bath, and soak for at least 20min. I do this once a week, and can feel the difference in my body – from bones to joints to muscles.

s.       Vitamin E

A German study found taking 1,500 IU of vitamin E every day reduced pain and morning stiffness and improved grip strength. Have not tried this, but will definitely add it to my list!

t.        Comfrey

Great for applying topically to help treat pain. Have not used it for anything other than a chest rub, but will give it a try.

u.      Lavender

Japanese researchers found that lavender reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make you feel relaxed and less aware of pain. I don’t like the smell of lavender, so will only use the oil in extreme circumstances. It does work wonders for a headache though!

v.      Black pepper

Hate pepper. Immediately taste it in any food and find the taste displeasing to say the least. The active ingredient in black pepper that is thought to provide relief is capsaicin – the same stuff that you find in bell peppers and chilli. Would much rather eat them than struggle with figuring out the right dosage of pepper. So have not tried, and don’t want to either.

w.    Green tea

In a 2010 study, the NCCIH found that green tea might help people with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) - The polyphenols in green tea are known for their joint-protecting and anti-inflammatory properties. But many more studies are still needed to prove the potential benefits of green tea. I drink a lot of tea, and used to take the supplement in pill form. But apparently it can counter-interact with other medication and supplements and so I have stopped drinking it. I stick to the tea now, but have read that our locally grown rooibos is even better so alternating between the two.

I have definitely left a few out, you are welcome to add them in the comments!

7.      Diet

Certain foods aggravate inflammation, and others can fight it. A Swedish study of rheumatoid arthritis patients found that those who switched to a Mediterranean style-eating plan (think fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, garlic, onions, and herbs) had less inflammation and regained some physical abilities as a result. Some of the bad foods include fried foods, refined foods, sugar, gluten, dairy and meat. I have no problem with meat, and only a little bit with dairy. But sugar! Wow it hits me bad.

Foods that are good include:

•           Omega-3 foods: Omega-3s are powerful at lowering inflammation and also have other benefits. Wild-caught fish, including benefit-packed salmon, is your No. 1 food of choice. Other sources include grass-fed beef, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts, which are all great choices.

•           Foods high in sulfur: Sulfur contains a form of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) that reduces joint inflammation and helps rebuild your tissues. MSM has been shown in studies to lower pain and function impairment compared to placebo-controlled groups. Sources include onions, garlic, asparagus and cabbage.

•           Bone broth: Bone broth is one of the best natural sources of collagen, which contains the amino acids proline and glycine that help rebuild connective tissue and have many more benefits. Additionally, bone broth supplies chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, antioxidants that help lower inflammation, bringing relief for arthritis and joint pain.

•           High-antioxidant foods (especially fruits and vegetables): Colorful fruits and veggies are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber, magnesium, potassium, digestive enzymes and anti-inflammatory compounds. Some of the best sources include leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, berries, melon, papaya, avocado and pineapple.

•           High-fiber foods: Fiber helps control your appetite, is beneficial for digestive health and lowers the risk for various other diseases and complications. The best high-fiber foods include vegetables, fruit, ancient grains, soaked legumes/beans and nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.

Foods to definitely avoid:

Sugar (especially fructose); hydrogenated oils; refined grains and their products (I try and skip the carbs totally); and if you have an autoimmune disease, then also nightshade vegetables like potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes.

8.      Massage

According to the Arthritis Foundation, regular massages can help reduce the pain and stiffness associated with the disease, improving your mobility. You can either learn to do it yourself or visit a therapist as often as needed. This is something I would have to be very desperate to try. I don’t like being touched, and a massage is just too much in my space.

9.      Essential oils

When diluted and applied topically, there are numerous essential oils that can help relieve arthritis pain.

10.      My favourite – CBD

CBD oil shows a lot of potential for pain relief, and I can confirm this. I take CBD pills that have a dosage of 25mg. I take 1 pill about once a week and the following morning I can almost jump out of bed. The only problem I have with the pills is I cannot take them if I am not able to clock a solid 8 hours. It knocks me out and makes me totally unfocused. If I sleep less than 8 hours I will wake up foggy, with a dry mouth. Luckily it passes quickly. My best natural pain reliever!

 Anything that I have missed? Let me know, I will gladly try it out (as long as nobody touches me, I don’t smell for days on end and there is no definite threat to my health. Other than that I am game!)