It's easy to think of arthritis as a disease of the elderly, but recently I've been meeting a fair number of young folk with joint pain.
That's because arthritis is actually an umbrella term that includes both osteoarthritis, caused by wear and tear, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disorder whose cause is still unknown. RA can strike just about anyone.
They say you gotta keep moving - exercise and stretching can minimize RA's pain quotient, though there's really no cure for the painful disease. The best to be hoped for is management.
Are there any nutritional fixes?
What the experts say
"No two people are the same, so there is no generic approach. Still, vitamin D deficiency is very much involved. Rheumatoid arthritis patients have been shown to be low in vitamin D, and we might as well say that 100 per cent of people here in the North are as well. But are there intervention trials for rheumatoid arthritis and vitamin D? No, there are not. The balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats is very important. Another issue for rheumatoid arthritis patients that's rarely addressed is the fact that arthritis drugs create deficiencies, like of magnesium, that can predispose them to more pain. All essential nutrients are essential, and it's important that they work together."
AILEEN BURFORD-MASON, nutritionist, immunologist, Toronto
"Arthritis is often associated with a malfunction of the digestive system - it gets clogged up. Nutrients can't get in and waste products can't get out. We use acupuncture, herbs and nutritional counselling. Also, look at what part of the body is affected. If it's your hands, you might have some conflict with the type of work you are doing. You might be using the pain as way of forcing changes. With arthritis, you have to keep moving, so you have to work through the pain. It would be easy to use it as an excuse to avoid something you don't want to do."
KALEB MONTGOMERY, Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"Fish oils are great. We want to focus on reducing the inflammation. If you're eating fish itself, two to three servings a week of fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel will give you the omega 3s. A lot of different foods can cause inflammation. Some people have sensitivities to tomatoes, eggplant and nightshade vegetables like green or red peppers. You might want to do an elimination diet or a blood test for food sensitivity. Vitamin C helps with inflammation, anywhere upwards of 1,000 mg a day. Zinc does the same sort of thing. You have to take them for a month or more to see any effect. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joints will be really warm, swollen and red, whereas with other forms of arthritis you won't have as much heat."
MUBINA JIWA, naturopath, Toronto
"A number of books purport to have diets for arthritis. But there's no objective evidence of arthritis becoming better or worse on an addition or subtraction diet. People talk about avoiding tomatoes: there's no evidence doing this makes a difference. People talk about avoiding organ or red meats: there's no evidence this helps. Patients say, 'Every time I have a tomato it makes things worse,' and I say, 'Then don't eat that.' There's what we can measure and then there's people's experience of their disease. The only diet change that hints at an improvement is adding fish oils. You can't get enough oil from eating fish to have a physiologic effect, so you have to take 15 capsules a day, but this causes bowel upset."
CARTER THORNE, physician, arthritis program, Southlake Regional Health Centre, Newmarket