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Arthritis is a painful condition that causes inflammation of one or more joints. While there are over a hundred different forms, the two most common types are rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs as a result of trauma or wear to a joint, while rheumatoid is the result of an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the inside of the joint.Whichever kind of arthritis you have, though, the symptoms are very similar, with swelling, pain and dysfunction. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States: 20 million people are affected.
The mechanism why which you develop arthritis might differ but the effect is the same in all types: the inner lining of the joint, the smooth surfaces that coat the bone where joints meet, is damaged and eventually bone is in direct contact with bone. This is extremely painful, and it can be the cause of secondary or referred pain. If the joint that's affected is your knee or ankle, for instance, you're likely to alter your gait (walking pattern) to accommodate the fact that your leg hurts.The net thing you know, you have hip and low back pain from your new, off-balance walk. You can also suffer secondary pain and swelling around the affected joint because you can't move it, meaning the muscles around it can tighten up.
All this sounds terrible, right?
If you do, you'd find side effects that testify to just how painful arthritis really is: no-one who didn't really need it would take this stuff.
For instance, one popular arthritis medication, Enbrel, is an immunosuppressant. Immunosuppressed people suffer less from autoimmune problems, sure — but they suffer more from the infections the immune system is meant to protect us from in the first place. Using Enbrel can lay you open to fungal infections, tuberculosis, and viral and bacterial infections. Bad enough? Wait, there's more. In some patients, Enbrel can increase the risk of lymphoma. This isn't to vilify Enbrel — it has good reviews from patients and does a great job at giving people with terrible pain some of their lives back. But it doesn't come without risks.
So it's no surprise that many people either turn to natural cures, or supplement their medication with them. Some of these are totally ineffective — homeopathy, for instance. Others can be downright dangerous: the risk associated with Enbrel pales into insignificance when you consider that herbal medicines imported from China don't just have no dosage control, but up to a third of them are contaminated with dangerous heavy metals at clinically significant levels. (Plus, Enbrel works...)
An ever-popular way to tackle disease is through diet. And it's obvious that dietary changes can have a big effect on how a disease progresses. Imagine you ate nothing but fast food for a month. Go check out Supersize Me. That's a poor diet, contributing to all kinds of health problems. But what about positive changes? Is there anything you can eat or drink that will help you actually control your arthritis symptoms, or that is likely to make them worse?